CNOOC-Nexen deal wins key U.S. regulatory approval

CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 12 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators approved the $15.1 billion takeover of Canadian oil and gas company Nexen Inc by China's state-owned CNOOC , removing the final hurdle to the Asian country's largest-ever foreign takeover.

Calgary, Alberta-based Nexen said on Tuesday the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) had given the final green light needed for the acquisition.

It expects the deal to close in the week of Feb. 25, seven months after China's top offshore oil and gas producer made its bid of $27.50 per share.

Nexen shares climbed to just below the bid price soon after North American markets opened, rising 2.1 percent to $27.43 on the New York Stock Exchange. It was the highest level for the shares since CNOOC bid for Nexen on July 23 last year.

The acquisition gives CNOOC new offshore production in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and off western Africa and producing properties in the Middle East, as well as in Canada.

CNOOC gains control of Nexen's Long Lake oil sands project in Canada's oil-rich province of Alberta and billions of barrels of reserves in the world's third-largest crude storehouse.

Canada approved the contentious takeover late last year despite misgivings from members of the ruling Conservative Party concerned about China's human rights record. But Canada also insisted this was the last deal of its kind that it would approve, drawing a line in the sand against state-controlled companies taking majority stakes in the strategic oil sands.

U.S. approvals, needed because of Nexen's Gulf of Mexico holdings, were slower as legislators examined whether the deal would threaten U.S. national security.

The United States has traditionally been more wary than Canada of Chinese investment, prompting some speculation that Washington might want Nexen to dispose of the U.S. assets.

Nexen did not indicate in its release whether CFIUS had imposed conditions on the approval and the company was not immediately available for comment.

In 2005, the United States blocked CNOOC's bid for Unocal Corp because of national-security concerns. An influential House committee last year urged U.S. companies not to do business with Chinese telecommunications firms such as Huawei and ZTE for fears that China could use equipment made by the two to spy.