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US oil services firms join push for revamped Venezuela license

Some US oilfield firms whose Venezuelan operations were frozen by sanctions are joining an appeal to Washington for authorizations to restart oil drilling in the South American country, according to eight sources with knowledge of the talks.

If they are allowed to resume work, Venezuela could quickly ramp up production capacity beyond 1 million barrels per day (bpd), analysts said.

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The new supply could also fill a void left by US ban on Russian energy imports over its invasion of Ukraine that has contributed to crude prices above $100 per barrel.

Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Weatherford International have been barred since 2019 from helping Venezuelan state-run PDVSA and its joint ventures produce oil. Any easing by the US Treasury Department of a restricted license the four companies share with Chevron Corp could let them expand operations.

Since the United States first imposed oil trading sanctions on Venezuela, many firms removed equipment and staff and wrote off hundreds of millions dollars of their assets there. But over a dozen rigs remain stored near the nation’s largest oilfields.

A high-level meeting last month between US and Venezuelan officials opened the door to a possible return of Venezuela’s oil to the United States. Sanctions were first imposed in 2019 to choke oil exports and deprive Caracas of its main source of revenue in its bid to see the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The talks coincided with Washington’s ban on Russian oil imports, a measure that will take full effect this week, potentially hurting US refiners and contributing to rising fuel prices.

Oil companies that still have a presence in Venezuela could promptly reactivate equipment in the country, the sources said, potentially reviving crude output, which remains at 40 percent of pre-sanction levels.

“If PDVSA’s joint ventures are seeking to obtain licenses to operate, they will need the oil services companies,” Reinaldo Quintero, president of Venezuela’s Petroleum Chamber told Reuters.

Several US-based and local oilfield firms have approached the chamber to express their desire to resume work in Venezuela, he added, declining to provide details on the talks.

Baker Hughes said it would not comment on speculation or future activity. Schlumberger said its policies do not permit lobbying or political contributions. Halliburton declined to comment on future plans in Venezuela.

Investment firm Amos Global Energy has submitted requests to the United States to participate in Venezuela’s energy sector and has an oilfield company ready to provide services if granted, founder Ali Moshiri said.

Weatherford and PDVSA did not reply to requests for comment.

Lining up

Chevron has requested authorization from US President Joe Biden’s administration to take operating control of its projects with PDVSA. The oil major also has begun readying a team for returning Venezuelan crude to the United States.

But US officials are still debating whether to revamp the current license, set to expire in June, sources in Washington familiar with the talks said. The move would be widely seen as an easing of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector.

Prospects for a change dimmed after an outcry from Republican lawmakers and some of Biden’s fellow Democrats following the Caracas talks. US officials are mindful that there could be further blowback if it proceeds, the people added.

Some US oilfield firms have communicated individually to the US Treasury through intermediaries support for Chevron’s efforts to get an expanded license and could provide services if an approval is granted, one of the Washington sources said.

The talks were not made through formal lobbying, according to two company sources.

Even though the companies’ current petition is for resuming some operations using mothballed drilling units in Venezuela, they hope to later secure US permits to bring in additional equipment, the person added.

The US Treasury Department declined to comment.

Lethargic output

Small firms hired by PDVSA since 2021 to revive oil output mainly by coil tubing techniques and well maintenance have helped stop a free-fall in production and exports.

But Venezuela’s active drilling rig count remains at zero since 2020, versus 87 units in 2013, according to Baker Hughes’ statistics. A portion of equipment once operated by local contractors and Russia-controlled firms is now inactive.

Only a handful of big drilling rigs are deployed in the Orinoco Belt, Venezuela’s main oil region, and the ones there – including two 2,000 horsepower (HP) modular rigs and a 1,500 HP rig – are idled over unpaid bills, a source from a joint venture between PDVSA and a Russia-owned company said.

PDVSA also continues trying to reutilize two 750-HP rigs imported from China to produce key crude for refining while hiring local workover equipment and crews, two sources said.

Of the four service firms that share Chevron’s license, Schlumberger has some 15 rigs stored in Venezuela, the largest inventory of mothballed equipment by a US company. The others have mostly moved rigs out of the country or have liens on equipment that must be resolved before resuming work, three of the sources said.

Another US company has 10 inactive workover rigs in Venezuela ready to resume work if restrictions are eased, said Amos Global’s Moshiri, who declined to identify the firm.

Because US sanctions prohibit any financial transactions with PDVSA, some firms have been trying for months to structure proposals that would allow them to get paid by partners or joint ventures authorized by Washington.

“We have discussed oil trading options so proceeds from sales could go to trustees through transparent payment structures,” Quintero said. “Cash flow would be confined to oil projects and the state would receive royalties and taxes.”

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Metaverse company pursues $10 mln Series A funding

Dubai-based software developer Meets Portal Company is in discussions with investors for a Series A funding round to develop its MeetsMeta platform, its founder told Al Arabiya English.

Mohamed Khaled said it would sell 20-30 percent of the company for up to $10 million, adding that although seeking a strategic investor, it’s likely to be a financial one.

“It’s early days in the industry, and few people understand how the metaverse works and what opportunities exist,” Khaled said.

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MeetsMeta selected the United Arab Emirates to launch the first virtual city to simulate reality through Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). It will provide users with a virtual experience where they can choose the individuals they want to meet and shape their alternative lives.

Users can study, pursue touristic activities and entertainment offers, while own luxurious resorts in return for payments in real or cryptocurrencies for their hours of use.

MeetsMeta has generated a total of $500,000 to date, with half of the total coming from the first flash sales of the platform’s NFTs, Khaled said. He revealed that the other half of the money came from the in-game revenue from the play-to-earn games.

Khaled holds 90 percent, with one other partner holding the remaining 10 percent share.

“We plan to use the money generated from the Series A stake for developing further the MeetsMeta Metaverse,” he said. “[This is on] a stand-alone platform, marketing and creating a whole ecosystem with its economy,” he said.

“At this point, MeetsMeta will be built on the top of NFT Worlds with the platform’s token used to design and develop a healthy economy for the ecosystem,” he added. “We can help create a healthy growth of the ecosystem and tokens,” he said.

The investment used to develop MeetsMeta currently sits at around $200,000.

“The UAE provides an ideal environment for launching MeetsMeta in the region. It is the most capable country in terms of IT and telecommunications infrastructure. The UAE strongly supports business growth and investments in cryptocurrency. It also provides a motivating environment for innovation and creativity,” Khaled said.

He added that his company believes that virtual reality technologies present a roadmap for doing business and enjoying a social life similar to the real world.

“It brings a lot of opportunities for developing commercial and educational as well as other vital sectors,” added Khaled.

A recent report published by the financial services firm Citi claims that “the total addressable market for the Metaverse could be between $8 trillion and $13 trillion by 2030, with total Metaverse users numbering around five billion.” It is based on people accessing such things as retail, advertising, and healthcare.

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Dutch EV startup Lightyear selects Sharjah’s tech park for first global expansion

Lightyear, the Dutch startup that launched the world’s first long-range production-ready solar electric vehicle three weeks ago, will be opening testing facilities and a sales office at the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park), the first such facility outside the Netherlands.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the two sides to create Lightyear’s first international presence outside of the Netherlands, reflecting the growing international importance of Sharjah in enabling development of sustainable mobility solutions through the SRTI Park.
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The two parties will collaborate on a range of activities, including setting up testing facilities and sales and service partnerships across the region.
In addition, Lightyear and SRTI Park will boost university research exchange programs on solar-powered EVs, and work on policy initiatives to support governments in creating incentives for electric vehicles, including solar-extended EVs.
Established in 2016, SRTI Park aims to develop and manage an innovation ecosystem that promotes Research and Development and supports enterprise activities and enable the collaboration of industry, government, and academia.
In SRTI Park’s role as a key technology incubator, the partnership will also enable fundraising for development and production of future Lightyear models and could pave the way for local manufacturing in Sharjah in the future, utilizing advanced research of leading Sharjah universities.
Lightyear is considered one of the most exciting and innovative companies in the EV industry. On May 30, it launched Lightyear Zero, a revolutionary car that can be charged by the sun as well as regular household plugs. Charging on-the-go, it gains up to 70 km of range per day from the sun alone.
Production is expected in the fall, with the first batch of cars to be delivered to customers in Europe in November. Test drives are set to begin imminently.

The MoU was signed by Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park, and Lex Hoefsloot, CEO of Lightyear, on June 13 in the Netherlands, in the presence of Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Jamal Al Musharakh, UAE Ambassador to the Netherlands, and Lody Embrechts, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UAE, with facilitation by consultancy firm Sawadi Ventures.
Speaking on the new partnership, Almheiri said: “The UAE has created a holistic innovation ecosystem that helps companies develop and scale up trailblazing solutions. Today, it is a hub for top-notch competencies and scientific innovations, particularly those related to clean energy. This complements our nation’s efforts to combat global warming and contribute to collective climate action, and aligns with the UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative. We are pleased by Lightyear’s decision to set up its first base outside the Netherlands at SRTI Park, and wish the company success in its endeavors.”
SRTI Park CEO Al Mahmoudi said: “This is an exciting moment for SRTI Park, which was set up to turn Sharjah into a hub for cutting-edge innovation, R&D, higher education, and university-level research. We are delighted to add Lightyear to our list of global innovators. Lightyear figures in the same league as Tesla, Rivian, and LUCID as one of the innovation pioneers in the EV industry.”

“Having Lightyear at the SRTI Park boosts the UAE’s position as a nation on the frontline of the transition to sustainable mobility, and in doing so, contributes to combating climate change through innovative technologies. UAE is already the world’s third largest producer of solar power, making it the perfect place to test and prove Lightyear’s solar extender solutions for EVs. We are confident that Lightyear’s presence at SRTI Park will spark interest among all countries in the region to embrace EVs,” Al Mahmoudi added.

Lex Hoefsloot, CEO and Co-Founder of Lightyear, said: “We look forward to collaborate with SRTIP to push further innovation into solar electric vehicles. The GCC region is of strategic importance for our company.”

Innovation-driven companies at SRTI Park

SRTI Park has been attracting global innovation-driven companies that are conducting R&D in vital sectors such as transportation, vertical farming, hydrogen energy, 3D printing, etc.

Lightyear, which began as a car racing team, became experts in energy efficiency and decided to put their knowledge to good use by going into solar car technology. Six years later, the revolutionary Lightyear Zero is under production and is set to upset the EV industry. The car requires only 1,500 kWh per year, thus making it twice more efficient than the Tesla model S, the equivalent in its category. For the average commuter, Lightyear estimates that the car requires up to five times less charging.
Lightyear’s entry into the EV market comes at a time when it is estimated the total EV transition for Europe would cost over $84.4 billion (80 billion euros), of which over $52.7 billion (50 billion euros) are estimated to be used for the charging infrastructure. With Lightyear’s innovations, dependence on charging infrastructure would be mitigated, thus accelerating EV transition at drastically lower costs.

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Ruble rises toward 50 vs dollar, first time in more than seven years

The ruble rose on Wednesday to its strongest in more than seven years, driven higher by capital controls and weak demand inside Russia for foreign currency as it neared 50 against the dollar for the first time since May 2015.
The ruble has become the world’s best-performing currency this year, boosted by measures – including restrictions on Russian households withdrawing foreign currency savings – taken to shield Russia’s financial system from western sanctions imposed after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
Proceeds from commodity exports, a sharp drop in imports, and month-end tax payments in rubles by export-oriented Russian firms are further factors behind the currency’s gains.
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At 0819 GMT, it was up more than 2.7 percent to 50.32 against the dollar on the Moscow Exchange after hitting 50.01.
“Despite the end of the tax payment period, we expect the dollar-ruble pair to stay near the lower boundary of our 50-52 target range,” Promsvyazbank said in a note.
Against the euro, the ruble added 3 percent to 52.91, climbing beyond 53 for the first time since April 2015.
Capital controls have also enabled the currency to shrug off what the White House and Moody’s credit agency said on Monday was the first default by Russia in more than a century on its international bonds.
The Kremlin, which has hard currency from oil and gas revenue to make the scheduled payments on the debt, has rejected the designation, calling it artificial and engineered by Western sanctions.
The strong ruble dents Russia’s income from selling commodities and other goods abroad for dollars and euros, and Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov said this month that industry would be more comfortable if it fell to between 70 to 80 against the dollar.
Many Russian companies, primarily non oil-and-gas exporters, are already suffering financially, said Evgeny Suvorov, economist at CentroCreditBank.
Just before Russia embarked on what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, the ruble traded near 80 to the dollar and 90 against the euro.
At that time, it traded in free-float mode and, unsupported by capital controls, got hammered due to fears of sanctions. On the stock market, the dollar-denominated RTS index rose 1.5 percent to 1,488.6 points.
The ruble-based MOEX Russian index was 0.9 percent lower at 2,387.4 points, pressured by ruble gains.
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