July 25, 2019 / 7:46 AM / a month ago

Papua New Guinea could renegotiate Total deal - Petroleum minister

* Terms of Papua LNG deal being reviewed - petroleum minister

* Total agreed deal in April, before change of PM in PNG

* Balance must be struck between investors and citizens - minister

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY, July 25 (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea’s petroleum minister said a gas deal it agreed with French oil major Total SA could be re-drawn if a government review finds its terms unfavourable.

The deal, for a project called Papua LNG, was agreed in April but put up for review after the prime minister who signed it was ousted in a parliamentary vote in May, following a crisis caused by discontent over the distribution of resource riches.

Petroleum minister Kerenga Kua, who was appointed to the crucial portfolio last month by new Prime Minister James Marape, said he wanted to increase the government’s share of resource revenue.

“Any signatory to a contract can, anytime after an agreement has been signed, go back to the negotiating table if they are, as an afterthought, unsatisfied with certain aspects of the terms and conditions of the contract,” he said on the phone from Port Moresby. “Our approach is purely commercial in nature.”

The Papua LNG project, a joint venture between Total, Exxon Mobil Corp and Australia’s Oil Search Ltd, is part of a $13 billion project set to double the country’s exports of liquefied natural gas.

Kua’s remarks are the first indication yet that the closely-watched review will include scrutinising the deal’s terms, and that the government is open to a potentially lengthy renegotiation. He did not specify which terms could be changed.

Total, Exxon and Oil Search had no immediate response when contacted by Reuters. The sector has been on edge since Marape won office and said that his government wished to increase its income from oil and gas projects.

“We, as a government, have opted to re-look at the (Papua LNG) agreement because it was signed at a time when we were in the throes, or in the process, of changing the government,” Kua said.

“It’s about weighing it between the nervousness of the investors and the pain and suffering of our own people ... by consultation you will be able to test the threshold of tolerance and then find that balance,” he said. “But as leaders of this country, we listen to our people first.”

The review will run a few more weeks and consider both whether the deal complies with national laws and whether its terms are acceptable. At the same time, the government is preparing reforms of its resources legislation.

“The bottom line is the government must see an increase in the revenue it receives on behalf of its citizens,” Kua said. (Reporting by Tom Westbrook; editing by Richard Pullin)

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