Belarus energy firm to produce oil in Venezuela

Minsk - The state-owned energy company of Belarus is planning to produce marketable quantities of oil in Venezuela by the end of 2007, a government official said according to a Belapan news service report Thursday.

Belneftekhim, Belarus' government-run energy firm, intents to deliver the product as part of a joint venture with Venezuela's government, said Mikhail Osipenko, a company official.

The Belarusian announcement came after a March visit to the former Soviet republic by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an advocate of developing the South American country's mineral wealth without the involvement of major energy multinationals.

Once it is fully operational, the project could add as much as two million tons (12.6 million bbl) to Venezuela's annual oil output, Osipenko said.

The joint venture reportedly will own concessions in Venezuela's oil-rich Maricabo region. Belarus has not made public whether the company would prospect for new fields, or work over existing wells.

Belneftikhim officials claim Belarusian recovery technologies are as effective as those used elsewhere in the energy industry, and less expensive.

The project would increase Belarusian access to energy supplies by giving the Belarusian additional income to purchase fuel in markets nearby, Osipenko said.

'There is no need for us to bring the oil from Venezuela all the way back from Belarus,' he said. 'We will sell it to markets close by, and then buy more oil for ourselves in markets nearer to us.'

If put into effect, the initiative could dramatically improve the energy supply situation in the authoritarian Eastern European state of Belarus, which is wholly dependent on Russia for its oil and gas needs.

Russia at the beginning of 2007 doubled the price of both fuels to Belarus, forcing Minsk - internationally isolated due to the Soviet- style rule of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko - to look far afield for other sources of energy.

Belarus is also trying to sell military supplies to Venezuela, having pitched to Chavez in March a multi-million dollar package of night-vision devices and anti-aircraft missiles.

c 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur