May 16, 2008 / 3:11 AM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Petrobras to slowly expand role in U.S.

LOS ANGELES, May 15 (Reuters) - Petrobras PETRA4.SA (PBR.N) is in talks with its partner in a Pasadena, Texas oil refinery, Astra Holding USA, to increase production or its ownership stake in the plant, but has yet to make any decisions, Petrobras America President Alberto Guimaraes said on Thursday.

The talks of a possible expansion or ownership shake-up at the 100,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery are part of a larger plan to expand Petrobras’ oil refining output inside and outside of Brazil, said Guimaraes.

Petrobras is even considering creating its own brand of gasoline stations in the United States, but there is no money committed to that yet and if that does happen, “it won’t be very soon,” said Guimaraes in an interview before he addressed Town Hall Los Angeles at the Regency Club in Los Angeles.

Guimaraes would not comment on reports that Petrobras wants to buy out Astra, a unit of Compagnie Nationale a Portefeuille of Belgium, and double the size of the plant on the Houston Ship Channel. They are 50-50 partners in Pasadena Refining System regarding the refinery. It is the only U.S. oil refinery holding of Petrobras.

Guimaraes would not characterize the intensity of Petrobras talks with Astra or with others in the United States regarding possible refinery expansions or purchases.

He declined to be specific on where new or expanded plants are, other than to say Petrobras has long said it wants to build more plants inside Brazil and export products rather than to build refineries in the United States and elsewhere.

Crude priced at $125 a barrel will not weaken Petrobras’ resolve to expand its refinery production, he said.

“How much refining will we have in five or 10 years?” Guimaraes said, repeating a question. “That depends how much crude we are going to have.”

Previously, Petrobras has said it wants increase oil output to 3.2 million barrels per day by 2012 from the current 1.9 million bpd and to 4.2 million bpd by 2015, and that it wants to expand its refinery output to 3 million bpd by 2015 from its current 1.9 million bpd.

But any definite figures are premature, said Guimaraes, until Petrobras confirms the potential of oil finds in its subsalt areas offshore Brazil.

Petrobras is in an enviable position among international oil firms. While many private and national oil companies have shrinking proved oil and gas reserves, Brazil’s Petrobras last November made a huge find off its shores — the subsalt Tupi field estimated to have up to 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil and natural gas.

This find is expected to be added to the company’s 12 billion of proved oil reserves .

Petrobras America, based in Houston, has a 2008-2012 plan to invest $4.9 billion in the United States, $3.5 billion on exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a whole, Petrobras has an ambitious $112 billion investment plan through 2012.

Earlier this week, Petrobras posted a 68-percent rise in first-quarter net profit.

Guimaraes said mid-2010 for oil production in the Gulf of Mexico Cascade-Chinook project remain on track. The third of three “appraisal wells” will yield results later this year, maybe in August or September, he said.

“We have expectations that this will bring us good news,” he said, that the third test will match results of the first two. He again declined to say how much oil and gas Petrobras expects from the Cascade-Chinook project. (Editing by Kim Coghill)

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