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Oil report

UPDATE 3-Russia state oil company to explore for oil in Cuba

* Russian firm gets two onshore, two offshore blocks

* State oil company Zarubezhneft wants more turf

* Company’s general director sees “good prospects” (Adds Cuba minister quote, details, minor edits)

HAVANA, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft signed contracts with Cuba on Tuesday to search for oil along Cuba’s northern coast and said it was looking at procuring more areas for exploration in a step forward for the island’s oil hopes.

Zarubezhneft signed up with state-owned Cuba Petroleos for four almost contiguous blocks, two onshore and two offshore in the Gulf of Mexico just east of Cuba’s most prolific oil field in Varadero.

Cuba has signed offshore exploration deals with eight other companies, but waters it says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil remain untapped, with only one test well drilled.

Big oil finds in the gulf could turn the communist island, which is deep in financial crisis, into an oil exporter.

The Zarubezhneft deal with Cuba was the latest sign of warming relations between the Cold War allies, who had a falling out after the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest benefactor for 30 years, collapsed in 1991.

The Soviet Union built Cuba’s oil business during their long alliance against the United States, 90 miles (145 km) across the Florida Straits from Cuba.

Russia and Cuba have signed accords in recent months for a series of business deals and Russia has said it will refurbish the Cuban military, which is still using Soviet-era equipment. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Cuban President Raul Castro have paid reciprocal visits in the past year.

Cuba senior oil advisor Manuel Marrero Faz said it would take a while for the Russians to begin seismic testing in the offshore blocks, where the deepest water is about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).

The island currently produces about 60,000 barrels of day of oil, all from onshore wells. It receives about 115,000 barrels per day from Venezuela on favorable terms.

Mexico and the United States, which share the gulf with Cuba, have been producing oil and natural gas from under its waters for decades.

GOOD PROSPECTS

Zarubezhneft general director Nikolay Brunich said the company had signed four contracts, all for terms of 25 years.

“We think they have very good prospects,” he said of the blocks.

Cuba’s Minister of Basic Industry Yadira Garcia Vera told Reuters the blocks were likely to be an extension of the Varadero field.

“We assume in that area the oil will be similar to the heavy oil we have in Varadero, but we’re also hoping to find natural gas,” she said.

The Russians said they were looking at possibly signing up for three more offshore blocks, two near Havana and one further out in deeper waters.

The Russian concessions are near a block that Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras was granted in October 2008 and has said it is still evaluting for oil prospects.

Only one exploratory well has been drilled so far in Cuba's offshore, that by Spain's Repsol-YPF REP.MC in 2004.

The well was said to show traces of oil, but a long-promised second well has not been drilled.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that Cuba has about 5 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore. (Editing by Jeff Franks and Todd Eastham)

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