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CNOOC to drill this month

China National Offshore Oil Corporation would begin drilling this month on an up-to-US$20 million exploratory oil well in Cambodia’s offshore Block F oil field, Cambodian officials said yesterday.

Drilling in the 7,000 square kilometre concession – awarded to the Chinese company in 2007 – represented a strengthening of relations between the two countries on resources, Ek Tha, deputy director of the press department at the Council of Ministers, said yesterday.

“This is more than just drilling. It’s a symbol of long-term co-operation between Cambodia and China on oil and gas,” Ek Tha quoted Deputy Prime Minister Sok An as having said during a meeting with CNOOC chief executive Li Fanrong yesterday.

CNOOC would train the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority on drilling techniques and other skills needed by the country’s governing oil body, Ek Tha said.

“The CNPA doesn’t know everything; the human resources are not there. So we are looking to companies like CNOOC for help on dealing with oil and gas,” he said.

The company would also provide Chinese-language training, Ek Tha said.

China’s long-term interest in Cambodia’s oil and gas reserves depended on exploration results and the settling of an overlapping-claims dispute with Thailand, Christopher Larkin, managing director of CLC Asia, a political risk and market intelligence firm, said.

“How committed they stay to Cambodia will probably depend on how prospective the Cambodian fields turn out to be in the long term and, I suspect, whether they think they can eventually get a piece of the action out of the Thailand-Cambodia Overlapping Claims Area – if and when a settlement on that issue ever comes about,” Larkin said via email yesterday.

The environmental impact assessment of CNOOC’s exploration in the Block F field was the first to be seen by the Cambodian public.

Civil-society groups welcomed the assessment, completed in July but not issued publicly until October, as a bellwether of transparency in an industry often characterised by secrecy.

A 2009 sub-decree from the government requires oil companies to conduct the assessments, or EIAs, before beginning exploration.

The assessments should also be made public, the sub-decree says.

Cambodia was still set to produce its first drop of oil by December 12, 2012, Ek Tha said. The country’s long-anticipated National Petroleum Law is on track to be completed before oil production in Block A – Chevron Corporation’s concession – begins.

“We have been dealing with the petroleum law, and we are optimistic that everything will be done before the first drop of oil is produced,” Ek Tha said.

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