By Steve Gelsi
Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. rose on Friday, as the oil giant reportedly inked a deal to explore for oil in Kurdistan.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average moved up 265 points, setting the stage for gains in the energy sector.
Exxon Mobil (XOM) rose 1.4% on reports the oil major inked a deal to explore for oil in Kurdistan, the region in northern Iraq which has been at odds with the Baghdad government over the fate of its oil fields.
An official with the Kurdish region told Dow Jones Newswires that Exxon will explore for oil and gas in six blocks. Exxon declined to comment.
Exxon could be the first big international oil company to reach an agreement with the Kurdish regional government.
Exxon is a key participant in Iraq's West Qurna field, which produces nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day. The Iraqi central government has historically forbidden companies operating in the Kurdish region from oil contracts in the rest of the country.
Among the major energy-industry benchmarks, the NYSE Arca Oil Index advanced 2.2%. The NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index moved up by 2.2%. The Philadelphia Oil Service Index rose 2.8%.
In other news, BP PLC (BP) said it won a victory in a lawsuit with minority shareholders of its Russian joint venture, TNK-BP -- the latest in a round of legal activity around its failed alliance with OAO Rosneft, according to reports.
An arbitration court in Siberia ruled against a group of minority shareholders, who brought claims of more than $16 billion against BP. The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal.
"Today's decision is a positive contribution to the investment climate in Russia," a BP official told The Wall Street Journal.
Shares of BP moved up by 2.8%.
Chevron Corp. (CVX) said late Thursday it temporarily halted drilling activities at its Frade field about 230 miles off the coast of Brazil after oil was detected on the surface of the ocean, causing a sheen. The site's output of about 79,000 barrels a day is continuing, because "production activities are unrelated to the sheen," Chevron said.
The company said that a remote-operated vehicle spotted a seep on the seabed at a depth of 3,800 feet within the vicinity of the Frade field's development drilling program. Investigations into the causes of the sheen are continuing.
Shares of Chevron rose 1.6%.
Oil-drilling contractor Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) said it received an informal inquiry from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to personal benefits received by officers and directors of the company, including their use of non-commercial aircraft.
The company said it is cooperating with the SEC.
In June, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Nabors company jet rang up about $700,000 worth of flights in 2009 and 2010 while stopping in Palm Beach, Fla., and Martha's Vineyard, Mass., both spots where Nabors Chairman Eugene Isenberg keeps residences.
The Journal said Nabors didn't respond to a request for comment.
At the company's 2010 annual meeting in April, shareholders raised concerns over executive compensation. A shareholder resolution said Nabors "has a history of making compensation decisions that are not in shareholders' best interests."
Both Isenberg and Chief Executive Anthony Petrello receive quarterly guaranteed deferred compensation payments, "which undermine the pay/performance relationship," the shareholder resolution said.
Both Isenberg and Petrello's employment agreements contain single-trigger change-in-control arrangements, which allow the executives to voluntarily quit and be entitled to severance payments.
Isenberg may be entitled to receive a cash payout of $100 million, plus the value of unvested equity awards that would automatically vest.
Shares of Nabors rose 5.5% in Friday trade.
China Petrochemical Corp. (SHI) said Friday it will pay $3.5 billion for a 30% stake in the Brazilian unit of Portuguese oil company Galp Energia SA, the latest in a series of investments by the oil giant.
Last year China Petrochemical, also known as Sinopec, paid $7 billion for 40% of Repsol's Brazilian unit.
In a week that saw political leadership changes in Greece and Italy and rising optimism about a solution to the European debt crisis, energy stocks moved up with the broad equities market.
The NYSE Arca Oil Index traded Friday at 1,259, above its week-ago ending point of 1,242.
The NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index changed hands Friday at 684, above its week-ago ending point of 681.
The Philadelphia Oil Service Index traded Friday at 237, ahead of its closing level of 233 one week ago.
-Steve Gelsi; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com