ConocoPhillips' Mulva says Gulf of Mexico is attractive for growth

ConocoPhillips, the nation’s third largest oil and gas company, may look to grow its holdings in the Gulf of Mexico amid the churning in the U.S. offshore region following the BP oil spill, CEO James Mulva said today.

“We do have interest in having a larger presence, dependent upon what opportunities come as a result of this tragic incident this past summer,” Mulva said in a phone interview this morning following a speech at Rice University.

In 2009, the Gulf of Mexico accounted for about 5 percent of ConocoPhillips’ total oil and natural gas production, the company said.  “We certainly would like it to be much larger than it is today in our portfolio,” Mulva said.

The Houston-based company is not currently in active discussions with any competitor to acquire more acreage in the Gulf , he said. It will assess its options as the post-spill regulatory environment in the offshore region becomes clearer.

“We will be working with the larger and the smaller companies,” Mulva said. “It may lead to more participation, more companies working on a single prospect than they have in the past, and we may be interested in pursuing those opportunities.”

In the wake of the Gulf spill, BP announced plans to sell billions in global assets, though it has not targeted properties in the Gulf, where it is the largest oil and gas producer.

Independent oil and gas firms, including Houston’s Plains Exploration & Production, are selling deep-water fields in the Gulf amid regulatory uncertainty in the region.

Following the April 20 blowout of BP’s Macondo well in mile-deep waters off the Louisiana coast, federal offshore regulators enacted a six-month ban on new deep-water drilling and issued new rules that have slowed shallow-water permits. But Mulva said the region continues to be a “very important and attractive” basin for oil and gas exploration and production.

ConocoPhillips along with ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp. and Shell recently announced plans to invest $1 billion in improved technology for containing oil spills in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico. Despite the companies’ very public criticism of BP in the Macondo incident, they allowed to join the British oil firm to join group this month.