Venezuela to sign gas deals with foreign companies
CARACAS, Sept 19
CARACAS, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Venezuela will sign deals to explore gas fields in the Caribbean with foreign companies, including U.S.-based Chevron (CVX.N), in a sign it is open to outside investment despite a wave of energy nationalizations.
Italy's Eni (ENI.MI) and Russia's Gazprom will also participate in the signing ceremony at the presidential palace on Friday which was also expected to include companies from Qatar, Algeria, Portugal and Japan, government officials said.
The deals help make President Hugo Chavez's case that his OPEC nation can work with foreign investors from around the world despite his deteriorating relations with the Bush administration which labels him an autocrat.
Last year, Chavez ejected major U.S. oil companies Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and ConocoPhillips (COP.N) from multibillion-dollar oil production projects that he nationalized.
While the others filed lawsuits against Venezuela, Chevron quickly struck a deal and remained in another of the projects targeted for takeover by the socialist leader.
Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States, its top energy customer.
Its natural gas operations are much smaller and some of its offshore exploration projects in the sector have failed to fulfill the potential the government has said they could achieve.
Friday's signing ceremony will involve a block called La Blanquilla-La Tortuga in the Caribbean, an area which for years has been part of the government's plan for increasing its natural gas production.
Government officials declined to give further details about the deals ahead of the ceremony scheduled later on Friday.
Last week, Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador and threatened to cut off oil supply to the United States. (Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Saul Hudson; Writing by Saul Hudson; editing by Matthew Lewis)
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