Oil majors chase Caspian riches
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The Caspian Sea in Central Asia is emerging as a major oil and gas frontier as many of the world's largest oil companies build exploration interests there. Bordered by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, the region has historically produced hydrocarbons, although the oil majors believe its full potential has yet to be tapped.
Of the nations bordering the 1,000-km long lake, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have the greatest potential to grow their output. At last week's 5th Eurasian KazEnergy Forum in Astana, Kazakhstan, representatives from firms including BG, ExxonMobil and Chevron reiterated the region's oil and gas potential. Kazakhstan has proven oil reserves of 39.8bn barrels, 3 per cent of the global total, according to BP statistics. Oil minister Sauat Mynbayev believes there is great potential to make new discoveries and improve current production by applying new technology. Analysts believe this could almost double Kazakhstan's current output of 1.68m barrels per day over the next few decades. One of the biggest contributors to Kazakhstan's production growth is expected to be the giant offshore Kashagan field, where recoverable reserves are estimated at between 7bn and 16bn barrels of oil equivalent. Kashagan is being developed by an international consortium headed by state oil firm KazMunaiGas and majors including ExxonMobil, Shell, Eni and Total. The field is expected to come on-stream in late 2012. In the wake of its US troubles, BP has high hopes that Azerbaijan will restore its deepwater reputation. It has signed an agreement with state oil company SOCAR to jointly explore and develop the Shafag-Asiman structure in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian. This is a new offshore block that has never previously been explored. Under the 30-year agreement, BP will hold a 50 per cent interest as operator with SOCAR holding the remaining 50 per cent. New chief executive Bob Dudley said he believed Azerbaijan's "significant remaining potential will continue to make it relevant for decades to come".