* Vanco deal was halted by Tymoshenko government in 2008
* It aims to explore area near Kerch straits in Black Sea
* Ukraine wants to end reliance on Russia for gas
KIEV, Feb 13 The Ukrainian government has given the go-ahead to a delayed Black Sea energy exploration deal with U.S. firm Vanco which was halted by the previous government of Yulia Tymoshenko.
The government's decision is part of renewed efforts by the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovich to tap new ways of developing domestic gas resources to reduce its reliance on Russia, Ukraine's main strategic supplier.
Kiev has tried to persuade Moscow to reduce the price of Russian gas imports, brokered by Tymoshenko, but has so far failed to secure any concessions.
Government website kmu.gov.ua showed an order rescinding a 2008 resolution which had annulled the licence granted to Vanco International Ltd. under a 30-year production-sharing contract for exploration near Kerch on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea.
Vanco outbid ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell in 2006 to win the right to develop an area of just under 13,000 square km about 13 km (8 miles) offshore.
But Tymoshenko, now in jail for alleged abuse-of-office which she denies, in May 2008 unilaterally withdrew from the agreement, saying she was acting to protect state interests.
She accused Vanco of breaking rules and conditions of the agreement and also voiced concern the firm was preparing to sell the licence to a large multinational such as Russia's Gazprom .
Vanco subsequently appealed to the international arbitration court in Stockholm which last December approved an amicable agreement between Ukraine and the company, ending the dispute.
The ruling by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government means that Vanco Prykerchenska, a subsidiary of Vanco Energy, may now go ahead with the offshore project.
Vanco in Ukraine could not be reached for immediate comment.
Energy reserves in the Kerch area targeted for exploration could be about 10.8 billion cubic metres, according to preliminary estimates.
Yanukovich's government has chosen a consortium led by ExxonMobil and Shell to develop another Black Sea field at Skifska, has signed a production-sharing agreement with Shell for shale gas exploration and is seeking foreign investors to help it build a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Black Sea coast.
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