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France buys into Kazakhstan

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy clinched oil, gas and nuclear deals worth more than US$6 billion with Kazakhstan during a visit yesterday, establishing France as a key investor in the resource-rich state.

The West sees Kazakhstan, the largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia, as an increasingly important energy supplier as it ramps up production by tapping new oil and gas fields on its Caspian sea shelf.

France's Total and GDF Suez yesterday got their share of future Caspian output by joining the project to develop the Khvalynskoye gas field, jointly owned by Russia's LUKOIL and Kazakh state firm KazMunaiGas.

Khvalynskoye is relatively small, with estimated gas reserves of 332 billion cubic meters, while fields such as Russia's Shtokman contain a few trillion cubic meters each. But it is conveniently placed to feed into the Russian pipeline network and should eventually produce more than 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year and oil condensate.

Total already plays a central role in developing Kazakhstan's flagship oil project Kashagan, the world's biggest oil discovery in the last 30 years.

Yesterday, a consortium led by a French firm, Entrepose Contracting unit Spie-Capag, signed a memorandum with Kazakhstan under which it could get a contract to build a pipeline for the export of Kashagan crude.

Entrepose Contracting said the Yeskene-Kuryk pipeline which will connect Kashagan to the Caspian Aktau port, could fetch billions in contracts for French companies.

In another energy deal, France's Areva and Kazakh state nuclear company Kazatomprom agreed to set up a joint venture to market nuclear fuel in Asia and look at the prospects of producing it in Kazakhstan, which sits on a fifth of global uranium reserves.

Officials said the two sides signed a total of 24 deals worth more than US$6 billion yesterday, a high figure even for Kazakhstan, which has secured more than US$70 billion in foreign investment since 1991.


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