China’s push to enter U.S. turf comes four years after CNOOC’s $18.5-billion bid to buy Unocal Corp. was scuttled by Congress on national security grounds. The El Segundo oil firm eventually merged with Chevron Corp. of San Ramon.
Whether CNOOC’s second attempt to lock up U.S. petroleum assets will trigger a similar political backlash remains to be seen. The sour U.S. economy and the need for Washington and Beijing to cooperate on potentially larger issues could mute any outcry.
The U.S. could also find it difficult to rebuff China when it has long welcomed other foreign investment in the gulf. In addition to StatoilHydro, foreign oil companies with stakes in deep-water projects there include Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, Brazil’s Petrobras, British oil giant BP and the Dutch-British multinational Shell.
The U.S. risks undercutting its foreign policy goals as well. Concern is growing over China’s aggressive investment in oil-rich nations with anti-U.S. regimes, including Iran and Sudan. Denying China a shot at drilling in U.S. waters would only encourage Beijing to make deals in volatile regions given that new oil reserves in stable, democratic nations are getting harder to find.