Nogales: Natgas Exports Would go via Peru, not Chile

Natural gas exports from Bolivia to North America would go through Peru rather than Chile while a territorial dispute with Chile remains unresolved, Bolivia's government news agency ABI quoted new hydrocarbons minister Xavier Nogales as saying.

"Bolivia cannot export gas through Chile. The gas has to go through Peru because we have a very important political restriction with Chile," newspaper La Razón quoted Nogales as saying on Wednesday.

"This resource has a great geopolitical importance and the country has to know how to use the gas in an intelligent way to benefit the country and its population, not just in favor of the oil companies or some groups that could benefit from this resource," ABI quoted Nogales as saying.

Resolving the issue of sovereignty over access to the Pacific on Chile's coast, "could take many years," and meanwhile "we have to go through a Peruvian port," he said.

Meanwhile, Bolivia's President Carlos Mesa telephoned his Peruvian equivalent Alejandro Toledo on Wednesday to inform him that Bolivia has made a "political decision" to use a Peruvian port unless Chile agrees to Bolivian demands, local newspapers quoted Toledo as saying.

Mesa has convened a national referendum on gas exports for July 18, which will ask Bolivians if they want to export gas to North America through a Peruvian port. The Peruvian port of Ilo could be used to export Bolivian gas, despite costing about US$300mn more than using Chile's Patillos port.

Mesa has authorized exporting gas to Argentina to help that country's energy crisis, but one of the conditions of the agreement is that "not one molecule" of the gas be rerouted to Chile. Argentina has cut gas exports to Chile in recent weeks to conserve gas for domestic consumption, leaving Chilean power generators searching for other sources of gas and/or alternative fuel.

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