Total Wish To Expand Asian Operations

TotalFinaElf is actively looking for ways to expand its Asian oil exploration and production business. Its senior vice president of Asia & Far East E&P division Michel Seguin said TotalFinaElf was scouting China, a country which it withdrew from in 1988, and had recently taken up new exploration blocks in Brunei and Malaysia. "We have specific strategy for each country, we don't have a overall strategy for Asia," Seguin said "We have a goal not only to maintain our production but also to increase our presence in countries that we are operating in and also to try new countries."

Asia now accounts for just 230,000 barrels per day or about 10 percent of the global production by the world's number four largest oil firm. The company took a "first step" in China this year, by setting up a exploration office, Seguin said. Critics say the oil major has been too laidback about China in contrast to its competitors like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, which have steadily made inroads in the last few years. TotalFinaElf pulled out of China's upstream sector completely in 1988, Seguin said. "We quit because it was not perfectly viable, and now we are trying to come back," he said. "China is a very important country and economy for Asia and a group like TotalFinaElf has to survey all possible opportunities." Seguin said South China areas like Pearl River Basin and Hainan Island held most E&P promise.

TotalFinaElf also wanted to introduce more deep sea offshore oil exploration technology, in which the company is a leader to Asia, he said. Recently it won a deep offshore block in Brunei's Block J in partnership with others. Seguin said it has deepwater exploration experience elsewhere in Asia in Pakistan and Indonesia. "In Brunei, deep sea offshore was encouraging," Seguin said. The major is a leader on deepwater technical know-how through its experience in Africa, where it operates Angola's Girassol field, the biggest oilfield at 1400 meters under water. Through its acquisition of Elf, the group now produces 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day in Brunei.

Malaysia was another prospect, Seguin said. Last week, the major signed an agreement to farm in a 42.5 percent stake in operator Amerada Hess deepwater oilfield in offshore Sarawak, East Malaysia. But Total's heaviest commitments are in Indonesia, where the company is one of the biggest gas producers. It produces more than 500,000 boepd of mostly gas in Indonesia, and Seguin said it will invest on average $1 billion a year in operation and capital expenditure in East Kalimantan. This is to supply gas to the Bontang LNG project which has sealed up buyers up until 2010. "Indonesia is the biggest and probably will be the biggest for a long time," Seguin said.

Elsewhere, Seguin said he expected the firm's gas operations in Thailand and Myanmar to stabilize over the next few years.

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