Former BP bosses Lord Browne and Tony Hayward unite for exploration project off Angola

Two former BP chief executives were reunited yesterday as Lord Browne and Tony Hayward – once referred to as one of Browne's "turtles" – struck a $281m (£170m) deal to explore for oil off the shores of Angola.

Lord Browne's White Rose Energy Ventures, staffed by a number of former BP executives, and Genel, Tony Hayward's Nat Rothschild-backed oil company, have bought stakes in two exploration areas covering 14,000 square kilometres at depths of up to 2,500 metres.

It is the first major deal for White Rose since it was formed by Lord Browne through his Riverstone private equity investment group in 2011 and the first time the two men have worked together since Lord Browne's departure.

While serving under the so-called Sun King Lord Browne at BP, Mr Hayward was one of the chief executive's acolytes known as "Browne's Turtles". Lord Browne moved to head up Riverstone's UK office soon after his departure, while Mr Hayward became chief executive, only to be hit by the Gulf of Mexico disaster, which cost him his job.

Mr Hayward, Mr Rothschild and the banker Julian Metherell set up an investment shell to buy oil assets, going on to buy Genel, a Turkish explorer with licences in Kurdistan.

White Rose's team, led by former BP executives Jim Bradley, Tony Renton and Rod McLean, found the deal to buy exploration stakes from a Chinese-Angolan state joint venture and Statoil. Lord Browne phoned Mr Hayward and the talks led to the transaction.

Genel, best known for its oil assets in Kurdistan, has been diversifying outside of Iraq for some time amid an ongoing political uncertainty.

Rod McLean, commercial director of White Rose, said: "We knew Genel were building up a business in Africa and thought they might have an interest in Angola."

Angola has become a major oil producer in the past decade as explorers have found huge reserves off its coast in the area that, 125 million years ago, was joined to South America in the supercontinent known as Pangea. When the continents drifted apart, they created vast rift valleys full of vegetation which turned into rich oil resources. These are now off the coast of Brazil at one end of the Atlantic and Angola.

After a false start in Equatorial Guinea using outside consultant technicians, White Rose hired engineers from BG, the former exploration arm of British Gas, who had been successful finding oil off Brazil to examine conditions off Africa. They decided the Angolan blocks were the most hopeful.

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