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India in Iraq oil foray

By Amy Yee in New Delhi

Published: December 27 2006 02:00 | Last updated: December 27 2006 02:00

India's largest state-run and private-sector oil companies are in talks on the joint development of a field in Iraq to help satisfy their country's surging energy demand.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and rival Reliance Industries are in preliminary discussions to develop the Tuba oilfield in southern Iraq, a person close to the talks confirmed yesterday. Both companies declined to comment.

ONGC, through its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh, and Reliance are expected to hold 30 per cent each in the venture and Sonatrach of Algeria would hold 40 per cent.

The three groups had together tried to secure oilfields in Iraq in 2000.

ONGC had previously won approval to develop oilfields in Iraq, home to some of the world's largest oil reserves, but activity was halted by the war.

As economic growth swells to 9 per cent, India is looking farther afield for energy sources. It imports about 70 per cent of its fuel. Reliance Industries owns India's largest oil refinery but has not sought to explore for oil in the Middle East apart from a holding in Yemen.

The company has 32 exploration blocks across India. In contrast, ONGC has interests in Sudan, Libya, Burma, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

It teamed up earlier this year with China's Sinopec to buy a 25 per cent stake in Omimex de Colombia, a subsidiary of Omimex Resources, a US-based oil explorer and producer.

The $800m deal was the largest since China and India decided to co-operate on energy assets.

In February ONGC and China National Petroleum Corporation, the country's largest oil producer, completed a pioneering $580m takeover of oil assets in Syria from Petro-Canada.

ONGC has also expanded into Latin America with its $1.4bn purchase of ExxonMobil's 30 per cent stake in a field in Brazil.

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