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MOL sets sights on North Sea market

A Hungarian oil and gas giant is moving into the UK North Sea through a $375 million (£230m) deal that provides another vote of confidence in the area.

MOL has signed agreements to acquire 14 offshore licenses in what it called the "attractive" North Sea from Wintershall.

It is also acquiring the German company's share of the huge Sullom Voe oil and gas terminal operated by BP on Shetland and the Brent Pipeline system.

Describing the deal as a milestone in MOL's history, the company signalled it intends to be a long term player in the UK North Sea.

Chairman and chief executive Zsolt Hernádi said the UK North Sea held great appeal for a company that wants to spread its geographic bets and gain more experience of operating offshore.

"The North Sea is a well-developed area and carries relatively low political risk compared with some of our other investments, which reduces MOL's overall exploration and production "political risk" profile, and the United Kingdom provides a predictable and transparent regulatory environment."said Mr Hernádi.

The head of MOL's exploration and production arm, Alexander Doods, described the North Sea as a core area.

Budapest-based MOL said it is acquiring a well-balanced portfolio that will allow the company to increase its overall production level while balancing its geographical presence and the associated risks.

The company said the licenses provide a core around which it can group other exploration, development and production phase assets.

The company joins a list of overseas corporations that have moved into the UK North Sea in recent years.

Sinopec of China acquired a 49% stake in Talisman's North Sea business for around £1bn last year.

While the North Sea is regarded as mature, Rainer Seele, chief executive of Wintershall, said the area still holds great potential, "as the discoveries in the last few years have shown".

He added: "We appreciate, that another European partner, MOL, is becoming active in the North Sea. We look forward to working together."

MOL and Wintershall have signed a strategic cooperation memorandum to jointly pursue opportunities in both the North Sea and the Middle East.

Wintershall said the disposal of the licenses would allow the company to focus its attention on the North Sea assets it operates.

Companies that operate assets have more control over their development than junior partners.

The assets MOL is acquiring include non-operated interests in the producing Broom field, from which Wintershall gets around 2,000 barrels oil equivalent daily, and the Catcher and Cladhan developments.

Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy has stakes in three of the licences.

Broom is operated by Enquest.

MOL has expanded from its east European heartlands to amass interests in 12 countries including Pakistan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

It produced an average 118,500 barrels oil equivalent in 2012, down from 147,400 boed in 2011.

MOL operates five refineries and two petrochemicals plants and owns 1,700 filling stations across Central & South Eastern Europe

Wintershall is owned by the BASF chemicals giant.

The operators of the other licenses MOL is acquiring include the UK's Premier Oil.

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