Turkmenistan gives CNPC $152 mln gas drilling deal

ASHGABAT Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:29pm GMT

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ASHGABAT Nov 21 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan has given China National Petroleum Corporation a $152 million contract to help explore a deposit that Turkmen officials say contains seven trillion cubic metres of natural gas.

President Saparmurat Niyazov said in an official decree that CNPC would get a three-year contract to help drill 12 gas wells at the South Yolotan field and other locations.

State-owned CNPC, China's biggest oil and gas producer, was not available for comment. The contract, agreed at a time when China is seeking to secure energy supplies in Central Asia, was only for drilling and no further details were provided.

Niyazov announced the discovery of the field earlier this month, describing it as "massive".

Turkmenistan, Central Asia's biggest gas exporter, has not disclosed the results of an international audit of its reserves.

If the find is confirmed, it would dwarf Russia's big Shtokman field. Russian media have quoted sources at Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) as saying the company doubted the Turkmen assessment of the South Yolotan reserves.

Turkmenistan produces about 60 billion cubic metres of gas a year. Gazprom buys most of the gas and controls Turkmen export routes.

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