UPDATE 1-Total expects to resume South Sudan exploration soon

Wed Oct 31, 2012 7:08am EDT

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CAPE TOWN Oct 31 (Reuters) - French oil major Total said it was confident of reaching an agreement soon with South Sudanese over exploration in a disputed block and was ready to resume work there with a new partner, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Last month the government said it would split Total's 120,000 square km concession into three parts to speed up exploration in South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan over a year ago.

"We are really confident that we will have an agreement with South Sudan government and with the introduction also of a new partner," Jacques Marraud des Grottes, Africa President of Total exploration and production unit told journalists.

South Sudan, which depends on oil for about 98 percent of its revenues, is eager to start exploration in Block B due to rapidly declining reserves in other producing fields.

Total has held the block since 1980 but halted exploration five years later because of insecurity from Sudan's civil war, which lasted two decades until 2005.

"We expect to resume soon. We are very close to celebrating and we already have people over there... We are ready to start," Des Grottes said on the sidelines of an African oil conference.

He did not want to reveal details of who the new partners were, although industry sources told Reuters in September that the two operators were U.S. major Exxon Mobil and Kuwaits' Kufpec.

Referring to Uganda reclaiming an exploration block jointly Tullow Oil, CNOOC and Total SA earlier this month, Des Grottes said it was normal procedure.

"Licenses are of a certain duration and at the end of the licence you have no rights. We did the exploration on that block, the license is over. It is just the normal expiry of the license," he said.

The Ugandan Energy Ministry's Petroleum Exploration and Production department said the Kanywataba block had reverted back to the east African government after a six-month long exploration license expired.

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