Subject: RT: East Timor Set to Welcome Oil and Gas Explorers

East Timor Set to Welcome Oil and Gas Explorers


MELBOURNE - Tiny East Timor will open the door to a growing queue of foreign oil and gas explorers later this month when its parliament is due to pass the country's first petroleum laws.

The nation's top energy official, Jose Teixeira, said representatives from more than 20 foreign companies had visited the poverty-stricken south Asian nation in the past year ahead of the first bidding round for exploration blocks in April or May.

"We have already received applications from Australian companies to compete in the bidding round. Interest is coming from everywhere, from China, Brazil, Portugal, France, you name it," Teixeira, secretary of state for mineral resources and energy, told Reuters in an interview.

East Timor shares the island of Timor, 600 kilometres (360 miles) off Australia's north coast, with Indonesia, from which it won independence in May 2002 after a bloody vote held in 1999.

It has vowed to use oil and gas money to alleviate poverty, create jobs and improve education for its 760,000 population. Some 41 percent live below the poverty line and one in 10 children dies before the age of five, according to a May 2004 report by the charity Oxfam.

There is little scientific data on potential oil and gas reserves -- excluding those in the Timor Sea, which are jointly claimed by East Timor and giant neighbour Australia.

The Portuguese, who ruled East Timor for three centuries, drilled about 20 wells onshore in the early 1970s, but there was virtually no scope for any exploration activity during Indonesia's brutal, 24-year military rule.

Teixeira said there was plenty of evidence to suggest East Timor was oil and gas rich.

"There are definite indications of hydrocarbon deposits. Oil is seeping out of the ground along the southern coast and you can see people gathering it up -- some of them put it straight into their cars."

A group of international consultants will be promoting the young country's energy potential during a two-month roadshow from April, which will go to Houston, Singapore, London and Tokyo.


A seismic survey covering 20,000 sq km (7,720 sq miles) by China's largest state oil group, China National Petroleum Corp., and Norway's Global Geo-Services is due to end in the next two or three weeks. The results will be used to help issue the first exploration licences in the middle of this year.

Norwegian geologist Geir Ytreland said he was optimistic substantial oil and gas reserves would be found in the survey area, which stretches from East Timor's southern coastline to the northern border of the disputed Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) held with Australia.

"Geologically, we already know that the area is very similar to (Australia's) North West Shelf and very similar to what we see in the JPDA," said Ytreland, on a two-year assignment in East Timor to help establish a petroleum administration.

"In about two months' time when we have the full seismic data we can be more precise."

The North West Shelf, operated by Perth-based Woodside Petroleum Ltd., is Australia's largest resource development and its only producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) -- world demand for which is expected to double by 2010.

The greater North West Shelf area contains identified natural gas resources of about 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf), enough to make about 2 billion tonnes of LNG and meet world demand at 2003 levels for 16 years.

The JPDA contains the $3.3 billion Bayu-Undan gas project, operated by ConocoPhillips, which is estimated to contain 400 million barrels of condensate and liquid petroleum gas and 3.4 tcf of gas.

Teixeira said East Timor was due to resume talks with Australia in mid-March over splitting the billions of dollars worth of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.

Failure to reach agreement at the last round of talks in October caused the Woodside-operated $5 billion Greater Sunrise project to stall.

East Timor estimates the total value of known oil and gas reserves in the disputed area of the Timor Sea at more than $30 billion. The biggest single resource in those waters is the Greater Sunrise field, with its reserves estimated at $22 billion to $25 billion. That field straddles the JPDA.

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