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Sinopec: No Change in Oil Field Bidding

China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec Group), the nation's second-largest oil company, will continue its bidding for developing 16 Iranian oil fields, despite attempts by the United States to urge it to quit the bidding.

Sinopec Group is among a group of companies interested in the Iranian blocks, after a Japanese consortium bowed to Washington's pressure and pulled out earlier.

The United States believes that the oil deals would thwart its attempts to quash Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program through economic sanctions.

"The US embassy in China has contacted Sinopec about our plans in Iran, but we have told them that we will continue with all of our efforts there," the Dow Jones News Agency has reported, citing an unnamed Sinopec official.

The refinery-heavy Sinopec Group has been active in searching for overseas oil reserves to feed its refineries. The company accounts for 80 percent of Chinese imports, and more than half of its oil imports came from the Middle East.

Sinopec already has an exploration project in place at the Zavareh-Kashan block in Iran.

The blocks on tender marks Teheran's first massive offering for foreign investors. But many industry officials deemed the blocks as second-rate, although Iranian officials described the blocks "high-quality".

To make the tenders more attractive, Iran announced the firms can extend their investment in the project up to 25 years from seven to eight years in the past.

It also said that foreign companies, unlike in the past, do not need to table a new bid to develop a project after exploration work has been carried out.

The Sinopec official, however, played down such incentives, adding that the company needed to see more details "on the legal, contractual and economic implications," the report said.

In another development, the Sinopec Group received an offer late last month to explore and produce natural gas in Saudi Arabia.

The deal is part of Riyadh's plan to open up its gas reserves that had been off-limits to foreigners for a quarter of a century.

Sinopec will drill and pump natural gas in a 40,000-square-kilometre area located in the deserts of the "Empty Quarter," or Rub al-Khali.

A new company, 80 percent operated by Sinopec and 20 percent by Saudi state-owned oil and gas giant Aramco, will be set up for the project, an Aramco official said.

(China Daily February 2, 2004)

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