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Venezuela considered swap in Exxon dispute

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela offered to resolve its nationalization dispute with U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil by withdrawing from its stake in the Chalmette refinery, a top energy official told local media in comments reported on Sunday.
/ Source: Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela offered to resolve its nationalization dispute with U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil by withdrawing from its stake in the Chalmette refinery, a top energy official told local media in comments reported on Sunday.

Exxon has acquired court orders freezing up to $12 billion in Venezuelan assets, after leftist President Hugo Chavez took over the Cerro Negro heavy oil project last year as part of a wave of energy-sector takeovers.

Deputy Oil Minister Bernard Mommer said pulling out of Chalmette, a joint venture with Exxon Mobil in Louisiana, had been on the table when the government took over Cerro Negro.

"With Exxon the solution was obvious from the beginning: if we position ourselves in the area of production, we withdraw our position in refining and those two amounts are similar," Mommer told the El Universal daily newspaper.

He added that Venezuela's insistence that future contracts not contain international arbitration clauses sparked the initial discord with Exxon, which left the OPEC nation last year after failing to reach an agreement on the state takeover ordered by President Hugo Chavez.

Analysts have suggested that Venezuela could offer Exxon its 50 percent stake in Chalmette as a way of settling the escalating dispute.

Venezuela cut commercial ties with Exxon to protest the legal assault, but assured it would continue to supply Chalmette, which receives most of the crude it processes from Cerro Negro project.

Mommer last week said state oil company PDVSA would not be able to sell its stake in Chalmette without Exxon's permission.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Maureen Bavdek)