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Western Oil Companies Resolve Kazakh Dispute



LONDON — A group of Western oil companies signed an agreement with the Kazakhstan government resolving a long-running dispute over one of the world’s largest oil fields.

For months, the Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea has been the focus of a standoff between the Kazakh authorities and a group of companies led by ENI SpA of Italy.


(Reuters: An oil-drilling platform at Kashagan oil field in western Kazakhstan. It is expected to become one of the world’s most productive fields.)Kashagan was the biggest oil find in 30 years when it was discovered in 2000. But the field development has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

On Friday, the Kazakh authorities approved the revised Kashagan development plan, the details of which were hammered out over the summer. Under the deal, the state-owned Kazakh energy giant KazMunaiGaz will double its stake in the project and ENI will lose its status as sole operator, sharing responsibilities with its partners in the consortium developing the field.

Production will start in late 2012, a full seven years later than originally planned, with output rising to 1.5 million barrels a day by the end of the next decade. That will make Kashagan the world’s most productive oil field after Ghawar in Saudi Arabia.

“This is a logical solution,” said Paolo Scaroni, ENI’s chief executive, in an interview from the Kazakh capital, Astana. “I’m feeling at ease with it.”

Also on Friday, ENI said third-quarter net profit jumped 37% on the back of rising oil prices and higher production. The company earned €2.94 billion ($3.76 billion), compared with €2.15 billion in the year-earlier period.

Kashagan is one of the most technically challenging oil projects in the world. The development is in shallow water that ices over in winter, and the oil is under extremely high pressure and contains huge amounts of lethal hydrogen sulfide. The project also has more partners than most ventures of its kind: besides ENI, there is Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp.,Total SA, ConocoPhillipsInpex Holdings Inc. of Japan and KazMunaiGas. Strained relations between the partners have added to the project’s complexity.

In August 2007, the Kazakh government effectively shut down the project, after ENI said costs would soar to $136 billion from $57 billion and pushed back the start-up date to 2010.

After months of negotiations, the sides agreed to double KazMunaiGaz’s stake to 16.81%, with all of the partners reducing their stakes on a pro-rata basis. They also agreed that a newly created North Caspian Operating Co., jointly owned by all the consortium members, would take over responsibility for developing the field from ENI in January, with management duties being rotated among the partners. Total will supply the first managing director, and his deputy will be from KazMunaiGaz.

ENI will complete the initial, experimental phase of the project but in the second phase, responsibility will be split with ENI — in charge of the onshore plant — and Shell — the offshore facilities — while Exxon will conduct drilling operations.

Write to Guy Chazan at [email protected]


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