Fri, 11 Mar 2005


Chavez gives green light to Total for new project to double

Christine Ollivier Associated Press Paris

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday gave the green light for the French oil giant Total to move ahead with a major project that will double its production there.

"We have decided that Total will go from 200,000 to 400,000 barrels per day, therefore doubling (its production) with an investment of several million dollars," the Venezuelan president said after a meeting with President Jacques Chirac.

His statement effectively gave the go-ahead for a new project in Venezuela known as Sincor-2, an estimated euro5 billion (US$6.7 billion) project.

Total is already a leading investor in the original Sincor project, which yields 200,000 barrels of oil per day. Sincor-2 would produce a similar amount of heavy oil.

"This is good news," said Total spokeswoman Catherine Enck.

The Venezuelan president met earlier on Wednesday with the chairman and CEO of Total, Thierry Desmarest, the spokeswoman said.

Chavez said that authorization for gas production for Total on the Atlantic has also been granted.

Chavez said that his country has no plans to diminish production quotas for the United States.

"We want to continue to send oil to the Americans, unless they don't want our oil," he said.

However, at a news conference later, Chavez renewed accusations that Washington was out to harm him.

"The Americans are preparing an aggression against my country," he said, without elaborating.

"If something happens to me, there is only one person responsible, (U.S. President) George W. Bush," he said. Chavez has made such claims in the past.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, producing more than 3 million barrels of crude oil a day.

Chavez said his country wants to increase oil production.

It is "one of the rare countries of OPEC and of the world that can increase and even double its production," the president said.

At their meeting, Chirac and Chavez agreed to reactivate a commission to strengthen ties, notably in the energy sector.

Chirac praised the progress of democracy in Venezuela and the country's economic performance, presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said.

Chirac also discussed with Chavez the situation of Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen and politician held by Colombian rebels since February 2002, and efforts to obtain her freedom, Bonnafont said.

Chavez evoked what he termed the "renaissance in Latin America" to refer to left-leaning governments taking hold there - six currently.