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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE: Oil News Roundup: December 18, 2006 4:29 p.m.

Crude-oil futures fell to less than $63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as the benchmark contract for natural-gas futures dropped near a two-year low, in reaction to forecasts for warmer-than-average temperatures in the Eastern U.S. Here is Monday’s roundup of oil and energy news:

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NORWEGIAN CRUDE: Statoil ASA, Norway’s state-owned oil company, has agreed to buy the oil and natural-gas division of Norsk Hydro ASA for nearly $30 billion, in a deal that gives the company control of more than 70% of Norway’s petroleum output. The deal would create a European oil giant with a market capitalization estimated at more than $80 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. That would be Europe’s fifth-largest oil company by market value, placing it behind European rivals Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Eni.

MORE STRIFE IN NIGERIA: Militants seeking a greater share of oil revenues for their impoverished region detonated two car bombs nearly simultaneously in southern Nigeria, the latest in a series of attacks that have cut crude production in Africa’s oil giant by one quarter. A third attack was aborted because many civilians were nearby, according to the militant group claiming responsibility.

•Looking to Africa for Oil: Though much of Africa is just as conflict-ridden as the Middle East, analysts say it is increasingly attractive because it’s one of a diminishing number of regions still welcoming foreign corporations, the Associated Press reports.

•FT Questions BP’s Safety Procedures: The Financial Times, in what it says is the result of a four-year probe (subscription required) into BP’s U.S. safety procedures that it says “raises serious questions about BP’s safety culture and its efforts to silence a steadily growing group of whistleblowers” and “tarnishes” BP’s “reputation.” BP tells the paper it stands by its overall safety record.

•Memo Blasts BP Leadership: An internal memorandum by Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive for exploration and production, blasts the company’s leadership (subscription required) as being closed to suggestions from below, the FT reports.

•Tensions in Kirkuk: Tensions are high as the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk prepares for a referendum next year on whether it will be considered part of Iraq’s Kurdish region, according to U.S. News and World Report.

•Big Oil Find in India: India’s Reliance Industries has found a large oil reserve in the Krishna Godavari basin off India’s east coast, the India Times reports.

•Report: Plug-In Hybrids no Problem for Grid: Critics have long warned that a wave of plug-in hybrid cars would tax the U.S. electricity grid. A soon-to-be-released Energy Department study says they’re wrong, TheCarConnection.com reports.

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