* CEO did not go to Benghazi but phoned rebels - ministry
* Eni declines to comment
* Shares up 0.7 percent
(Releads, adds Eni comment, analysts, background, shares)
By Philip Pullella and Stephen Jewkes
ROME/MILAN, April 4 Eni's (ENI.MI) chief
executive has contacted rebels in Benghazi about energy
cooperation, as the Italian oil and gas group moved to protect
its role as the leading foreign oil operator in Libya.
Eni's efforts were supported on Monday by Italy giving
Libyan rebels its full backing. [ID:nLDE733100]
CEO Paolo Scaroni had phone contact with representatives of
the rebels' National Transitional Council in recent days,
Italy's foreign ministry said. Eni declined to comment.
That corrected an earlier comment by minister Franco
Frattini who said Scaroni visted Benghazi two days ago and had
meetings on restarting cooperation on energy with the council.
There had been concern that state-controlled Eni's position
in Libya could be undermined by Italy's hesitant backing for the
rebel movement, paving the way for a greater say for French
group Total (TOTF.PA) and maybe British firms. [ID:nLDE733100]
Britain and France led the drive for intervention in Libya
to protect rebels from strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, long Gaddafi's closest
European ally, was subdued in supporting rebels at first, while
key coalition partner the Northern League opposed intervention.
TAKE A LOOK on Libya: [ID:nTOPMEAST]
FACTBOX on Libyan oil production: [ID:nLDE72M1UJ]
Eni, present in Libya since the 1950s, is the biggest
foreign oil company there, producing 270,000 boed (barrels of
oil equivalent per day) in 2010 . Its contracts are in force to
2042 for oil production and 2047 for gas.
Early in March, Scaroni called on Europe to abandon
sanctions against Libya, adding relations with Tripoli had not
been hurt and Lybia's National Oil Corporation (NOC) was its
main interlocutor. [ID:nLDE72F2K7]
Before the air strikes, NOC head Shokri Ghanem said Eni's
contracts were safe. Since then, Ghanem has said Libya was
considering offering oil block contracts directly to China,
India and other nations it sees as friends. [ID:nLDE72I0BX]
"Eni is sitting pretty. The gas pipeline from Libya goes to
Italy and the rebels will need that. They will also need the
group's oil experience," said Stefano Casertano, senior fellow
at German think-tank BIGS-Potsdam.org.
At 1510 GMT, Eni shares were up 0.7 percent, with the
European oil and gas sector .SXEP up 0.3 percent.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Dan Lalor)