Guyana has attracted interest from several oil trading companies for a contract to serve as the marketing agent for the government's share of the country's crude, despite a plunge in global prices, four people familiar with the matter said.
Oil major Royal Dutch Shell and commodities traders Gunvor and Mercuria were among the companies that have submitted expressions of interest ahead of the Tuesday morning deadline, the people said on condition of anonymity as they were unauthorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Mark Bynoe, the Guyanese government's director of energy, declined to comment on expressions of interest before the procurement process is finished.
The government has said it is planning on shortlisting no more than 20 companies that submit expressions of interest. Those companies would be required to provide a full technical proposal and financial offer, a process that could take around two months, Bynoe said.
Guyana, a poor South American country with no history of oil production, joined the ranks of the world's crude producers in December.
A consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp began exporting crude in January from the offshore Stabroek block, where it has discovered more than 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
Under the contract with the consortium, which also includes Hess Corp and China's CNOOC Ltd, the government is entitled to 50% of the crude after cost recovery.
But Guyana has no domestic refining capacity, so the government is seeking to sell its share to a trader who can market it.
A Shell trading unit last year won the rights to market Guyana's first three cargoes of crude oil, and has lifted a 1 million-barrel shipment so far. The new contract would be for 12 months and involve five lifts of some 1 million barrels each.
"This is for a big game," said one of the people, noting that short-term price volatility would not dampen interest in such a long-term contract.
The deal has attracted interest despite a plunge in crude oil prices in the past month sparked by falling demand during the coronavirus outbreak and a price war between major producers. U.S. crude prices traded in negative territory for the first time in history on Monday.
In February, the government's cargo sold for $55 a barrel, before the worst of the oil price collapse.
Projected lifting costs for Liza partners will be just over $10 per barrel for the full year, according to Ruaraidh Montgomery, director of research at Houston-based consultancy Welligence.
Exxon has said operations at its flagship Liza field in the Stabroek block were unaffected by the price drop, which prompted the company to slash capital spending this year.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Julia Payne and Ron Bousso in London; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Richard Chang)