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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 15:45 GMT
Minister 'to protect North Sea oil output'
Enterprise Oil rig
British energy minister Brian Wilson has spoken out against the possible takeover of Enterprise Oil - one of the UK's last remaining independent oil firms, according to a report in the Observer newspaper.

In a highly unusual intervention, Mr Wilson indicated that he believed that a takeover by a foreign firm could lead to the under-exploitation of North Sea oil reserves.

The government is keen to squeeze every drop of oil out of the North Sea in order to protect jobs and offset the UK's reliance on crude oil and gas imports.

Enterprise Oil, an exploration and production company, confirmed earlier this month that it had received and rejected an unsolicited approach regarding a possible offer for the company.

The Italian oil giant, Eni, is thought to be preparing a hostile bid for the firm.

Success story

"Enterprise is one of the success stories in North Sea development over the past few years and there is no guarantee that the projects it finds attractive would interest a state-owned oil giant with a worldwide range of projects to choose from," Mr Wilson told the Observer.

Enterprise has long been a takeover target, but it has so far seemed determined to avoid the consolidation which has swept through the rest of the industry.

And a spokesman for the oil firm welcomed the comments by the energy minister.

Mr Wilson praised the policy of encouraging independent companies in the North Sea, an area that some major oil companies would not be so keen to bother developing.

But he said that any progress that has been made would be wiped out if the most successful independent firms were swallowed up by international oil firms.

Italy's Eni bought Lasmo, a former rival of Enterprise, in July 2000.

See also:

04 Jan 02 | Business
Oil prices rocket
31 Dec 01 | Business
Tide turns against the oil firms
28 Dec 01 | Business
Opec cuts exports to boost prices
15 Jan 02 | Business
ENI bid speculation mounts
17 Jan 02 | Scotland
Major oil find in North Sea
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