UPDATE 2-Russian March oil output falls again, exports recover
(Adds figures by companies, gas output)
MOSCOW, April 2 (Reuters) - Russia failed to grow its oil output for a third month in a row in March and closed the first quarter with a one percent production decline year-on-year, confirming gloomy outlook by analysts for the whole of 2008.
Energy Ministry data showed on Wednesday March oil production edged down to 9.76 million barrels per day from 9.79 million bpd in February, and well below the post Soviet high of 9.93 million bpd reached in October last year.
In absolute figures, March production was over 5 million barrels - the size of five large tankers - down from October.
Since October, oil production in Russia has been balancing between decline and stagnation, prompting many analysts to revise down their oil production forecasts for 2008.
Credit Suisse said last week it expected oil output to fall by 0.5 percent this year, down from its earlier growth prediction of 0.7 percent.
Also last week, UBS said that Russian oil production might drop in excess of one percent this year if oil companies fail to drill thousands of news wells.
The data showed first quarter output amounted to 9.77 million bpd, down one percent from 9.86 million bpd in the same year-ago period.
Russian energy and economy ministries expect oil output to grow by 1.7 percent this year after an increase of 2.3 percent in 2007 and much bigger spikes in previous years, including a record 11 percent in 2003.
FALLING ACROSS THE BOARD
The Energy Ministry data showed that Russian production sharing projects, which are located mainly off Pacific island of Sakhalin and were the key growth drivers in 2007, cut output to 228,400 bpd in March, down by 5.7 percent from February.
U.S. oil major ExxonMobil (XOM.N), which leads the Sakhalin-1 project producing the bulk of the output, declined to comment on its March production volumes, saying it had met all obligations with the Russian government.
Exxon expects its production from Sakhalin-1 to decline this year from its peak of 250,000 bpd last year due to field depletion.
Output also declined by between 0.1 to 1.5 percent at all major Russian producers, including the country's largest oil firm, state-controlled Rosneft (ROSN.MM), which extracted 2.3 million bpd in March, down by 0.1 percent versus February.
The only major producers to achieve output growth were Russia's second-largest oil firm LUKOIL (LKOH.MM) and mid-sized producer Tatneft TATN3.MM, which increased production by 0.1 and 0.6 percent, respectively.
LUKOIL's production of 1.8 million bpd was down by 4 percent in year-on-year terms, however.
The data also showed that March oil exports via major ports and pipelines to Europe recovered to 4.23 million bpd from 3.99 million bpd in February, which was the lowest level since 2004.
Gas production by Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) fell by 2.4 percent to 50.480 billion cubic metres.
To see a table on Russian March oil output and exports click on [ID:nL02653758], exports by route [ID:nL02574175] and gas production [ID:nL02222449]. (Reporting by Tanya Mosolova; editing by James Jukwey)
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