Exxon Holds Talks with Guyana's Pres Ahead of Border Ruling

GEORGETOWN, Guyana Mar 07, 2007 (AP)

A team from Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) met with Guyana's president this week, joining other oil companies in positioning itself to begin drilling off the nation's coast once a U.N. body rules on its border dispute with Suriname, officials said.

The U.S. oil giant has the rights to a large concession, but has delayed exploration because of the long-running border feud between the South American nations, which the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is expected to resolve with a ruling around May.

The talks Monday with the Exxon team led by Jim Flannery, the company's South America area manager, come two weeks after the Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF (REP) and Toronto-based CGX Energy Inc. (OYL.U.V) met with Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo to discuss exploration.

"The companies want to be prepared for the ruling and to be able to hit the ground running when it is announced," Newell Dennison, petroleum director at the state's geology and mines commission, said Tuesday. "They are coming to Guyana in anticipation of the ruling."

Industry experts say the contested Guyana-Suriname Basin, an underwater area of hundreds of square miles, may hold as much as 15 billion barrels of oil along with huge deposits of natural gas.

Guyana, which also borders Brazil and Venezuela, sought a definitive ruling from the Hamburg, Germany-based U.N. maritime body in 2004 after talks with Suriname broke down over production sharing in the event of an energy find.

In recent years, the two countries strengthened their militaries after coming close to conflict in 2000, when Suriname sent two gunboats to the region and expelled CGX Energy, halting its oil exploration there under a Guyanese license.

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