March 5, 2008 / 5:00 PM / 12 years ago

Total to start oil drilling in Mauritania

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - France’s Total (TOTF.PA) will start drilling onshore exploration wells next year in Mauritania, as the West African country aims to boost disappointing oil production, the energy minister said.

Mohamed El Moctar Ould Mohamed El Hacen said Malaysian state oil company Petronas, which bought Mauritania’s only oilfield from Australia’s Woodside (WPL.AX) last year, started drilling last month to boost production from the Chinguetti field.

Total will start exploring in the vast Taoudenit basin along the border with Mali, which has so far only had two exploration wells drilled on the Mauritanian side.

“Total will start drilling (exploration) wells from 2009 and is preparing all the logistics in Taoudenit, considered one of the greatest basins in the world,” El Hacen told Reuters in an interview.

The basin covers an area of 500,000 square kilometers in eastern Mauritania, but seismic testing has only been carried out on 6,268 square kilometers.

“Several companies — CNPC, Petronas, Exxon (XOM.N) — are conducting geo-physical studies and are preparing seismic tests,” the minister said.

China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) began exploration for oil in Mauritania in late 2006, just months after the Chinguetti field started production in February that year.

Production at Chinguetti has declined again to around 11,500 barrels a day, from initial levels of 75,000 barrels a day.

Woodside executives had said the fall in production was due to the unexpectedly complex structure of the field’s oil reservoir. Petronas started drilling additional wells at the site last month.

"We hope this will help to considerably increase production," the minister said. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ )

Writing by Daniel Flynn; editing by James Jukwey

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