Sinopec Wins Contract to Explore Saudi's Empty Quarter

Sinopec has won a contract to explore and produce natural in Zone B of Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter. This is the second of three contracts awarded this week. Earlier this week Lukoil announced its award of Block A. The is part of the country's plan to open up its gas reserves that had been off-limits to foreigners for a quarter of a century.

Last summer, Shell and Total were the first international firms to win exploration rights in the southern desert region. Saudi Arabia has since tendered out three more gas blocks, the third of which, located in Zone C, will be awarded Wednesday.

These pared-down, exploration-only deals follow last year's collapse of an ambitious $25-billion Saudi gas initiative, led by ExxonMobil Corp. and Shell, which aimed to couple natural gas exploration and production with related downstream utilities and petrochemicals projects in three huge projects.

State-owned energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. will take a 20% stake in Sinopec's joint venture, a Saudi oil official said.