*CNPC, LG, others win $9.7 bln of contracts
*To build plants at South Iolotan field, country's largest (Adds background, detail)
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Dec 29 Firms from China, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates have won $9.7 billion worth of contracts to develop Turkmenistan's largest natural gas deposit, government sources in the Central Asian state said on Tuesday.
The decision marks the latest move by Turkmenistan, holder of the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, to diversify its energy industry away from Russia, its Soviet-era master and traditionally the main buyer of Turkmen gas.
The international pool of companies will drill and build gas plants at the South Iolotan deposit, which is ranked potentially as one of the biggest five natural gas deposits in the world.
Chinese state oil and gas firm CNPC, South Korea's LG International Corp (001120.KS) and Hyundai Engineering Co (000720.KS) and the UAE's Petrofac Emirates (PFC.L) won the tender, a government source told Reuters on Tuesday.
Turkmenistan expects the South Iolotan deposit to produce around 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year, a second government official said.
"CNPC is obliged to produce up to 10 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year and will get 3.13 bcm for itself," the second source said.
The Chinese investment follows the opening of a new 1,833-km (1,139-mile) pipeline this month to connect natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and its Central Asian neighbours with China. Chinese leader Hu Jintao attended the opening. [ID:nLDE5BC0BA]
Petrofac Emirates, a joint venture based in Abu Dhabi, won $3.98 billion worth of contracts, the second source said, without elaborating.
A consortium of LG International and Hyundai Engineering said earlier on Tuesday it had won a $1.48 billion order to build a gas plant at South Iolotan by the third quarter of 2012. [ID:nSEL002846]
South Iolotan contains between 4 trillion and 14 trillion cubic metres of gas, Britain's Gaffney, Cline and Associates said last year.
(Writing by Dmitry Sergeyev and Robin Paxton; Editing by John Stonestreet and Richard Chang)
Our top photos from the past week.