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Exclusive-Vitol close to buying Exxon, QatarEnergy stakes in Italy LNG terminal, sources say

Illustration shows model of LNG tanker and Italy's flag

By Francesca Landini

MILAN (Reuters) - Vitol-backed energy storage company VTTI is close to acquiring a majority stake in Italy's biggest liquefied natural gas import terminal from Exxon Mobil and QatarEnergy, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

The deal, which sources previously said could value the entire terminal at about 800 million euros ($868 million), would give VTTI a role in the European LNG market at a time when flows of the liquefied gas to Italy are on the rise.

Exxon put its 70.68% interest in the Adriatic LNG terminal up for sale last year, as part of a strategy to divest non-core assets. QatarEnergy owns a 22% stake.

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VTTI and QatarEnergy were not available for comment outside working hours in Europe and the Gulf. Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Once a deal is signed, Italian gas grid operator Snam, which currently owns a 7.3% in the terminal, will have 45 days to decide whether to exercise its right of first refusal to increase its stake in the project.

The chief executive of state-controlled Snam said in January the group could increase its stake in the terminal to as much as 30% under an agreement with the current shareholders, boosting its influence over an asset considered strategic for the country.

One of the sources said last-minute surprises to VTTI's purchase attempt could not be ruled out. The sources declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

Investment manager BlackRock in December bowed out of exclusive talks to acquire the asset, reopening the possibility for VTTI to buy it.

The Adriatic LNG terminal is located about 9 miles (15 km) off the Veneto coastline and has a regasification capacity of 9 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year.

It is the only Italian LNG terminal that can receive so-called super large-scale LNG vessels with a capacity of up to 217,000 liquid cubic meters.

($1 = 0.9212 euros)

(Additional reporting by Sabrina Valle and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Jamie Freed)