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Total CEO: need to tame "Lake Albert Crocodiles" to move Uganda project in 2019

Patrick Pouyanne, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Total, attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - French oil and gas major Total’s chief executive said on Thursday that the firm’s Ugandan Lake Albert oil project will be a personal priority this year after setbacks led to a delay on a final investment decision (FID) in 2018.

Patrick Pouyanne said during an earnings call that he remained optimistic about the project after several meetings with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and aimed to ready it for clearance.

The project, which was expected to have been cleared last year, has been delayed due to disagreements over field development strategy, tax disputes and a lack of infrastructure such as a refinery or export pipeline.

“There are many crocodiles in Lake Albert, we need to domesticate the crocodiles before we move forward,” Pouyanne quipped during the call, alluding to various difficulties in getting the project off the ground.

“It is a difficult project because it is landlocked. It is a new country to oil, we have to create everything,” he said.

Several sticking points have been resolved including a refinery and pipeline issue. Project engineering has been done and some tenders have been issued and prices in terms of costs are acceptable, Pouyanne said.

Total is developing Uganda’s first oilfield with China’s CNOOC. Production at the estimated 230,000 barrels per day project was expected to start in 2021.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Kirsten Donovan