CARACAS, Sept 19 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
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
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)