PERTH, Oct 9 (Reuters) - France's Total made its first venture into Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, signing a deal with Australia's Oil Search to acquire five licensing agreements in the onshore and offshore Gulf of Papua region.
Oil Search, which has operated in Papua New Guinea for decades, and Total will hold equal interests in the five licenses, Oil Search said in statement released on Tuesday.
"The farm-in... is in line with our strategy to strengthen our presence in the Asia Pacific, particularly in the gas and LNG sectors," said Jean-Marie Guillermou, senior vice president of Total exploration and production in Asia-Pacific.
Total has been recently expanding its portfolio in Asia and in January made a final investment decision, along with joint venture partner Inpex, on Australia's $34 billion Ichthys liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Darwin.
A drilling program on the offshore licenses will begin in the first quarter of 2013, Oil Search said.
"In the event of exploration and appraisal success that leads to an LNG project, Total would develop and operate the downstream facilities of any development," said Peter Botten, Oil Search's managing director.
Papua New Guinea has several LNG projects already under way, including Exxon's $15.7 billion PNG LNG project, which is expected to come online in 2014.
InterOil Corp has also been planning a $6 billion LNG project, but is still finalising the specifications of the project with the government.