Latin American nations compete for capital in surge of oil auctions


For decades, many Latin America’s oil-producing nations have often shunned investment from foreign firms, instead keeping their vast reserves under the tight control of governments and state-run oil companies.

They aimed to protect profits to feed public budgets, but in practice have seen some major breakdowns, as with the corruption scandals and heavy debts at Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA [PDVSA.UL], or the inability of Mexico’s Pemex[PEMX.UL] to conjure the cash and expertise to tap its vast deepwater reserves.

Now, an unprecedented wave of free-market energy reforms is gaining traction across the region, setting up a fierce competition to attract billions of dollars in investment from the likes of Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), BP (BP.L) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L).

Seven governments this year will combine to hold at least 15 oil and gas auctions, offering a record 1,100 blocks of onshore or offshore acreage, according to interviews with officials and a tally of announced auctions. On Thursday, Brazil’s latest auction collected $2.4 billion in pledges, awarding 22 of 68 regions on offer.

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