East Timor has signed a deal to buy ConocoPhillips Co.'s (NYSE: COP) stake in the Greater Sunrise gas field off the country's southern coast for $350 million, the Australian Financial Review reported on Oct. 1.
A delegation led by former East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and its proposed new petroleum minister Alfredo Pires signed a final agreement in Bali on Sept. 28 with ConocoPhillips' Australia West president Chris Wilson, the newspaper said, without citing any sources.
The agreement is expected to be mutually beneficial to the government of Timor-Leste and ConocoPhillips, according to Matt Fox, executive vice president of strategy, exploration and technology for ConocoPhillips.
“ConocoPhillips has a long history in Timor-Leste through our operated interest in the Bayu-Undan Field,” Fox said. “Although we differ with the government on its proposed development plan for Sunrise, we recognize the importance of the field to the nation of Timor-Leste, and the sale of our interest to the government gives them a working interest in this important development.”
The deal is expected to close first-quarter 2019, once certain conditions are met, ConocoPhillips said. Proceeds will be used for general corporate purposes.
The East Timor embassy in Australia did not respond to phone calls or an email request for comment.
Taking ConocoPhillips' 30% stake would help East Timor position itself to push for the development of Greater Sunrise, discovered in 1974 but long delayed as it straddles the maritime border between Australia and East Timor, which was only agreed earlier this year following a protracted dispute between the two countries.
The border agreement outlined two options for developing Greater Sunrise—piping the gas to East Timor, which the tiny Southeast Asian nation has long wanted, or piping it to Australia for processing.
East Timor wants the gas to come to its shores as it is eager to develop oil and gas-based industries, such as petrochemicals manufacturing, to diversify its economy, one of the world's poorest.
The need is urgent as the government's main source of revenue, the Bayu Undan gas field run by ConocoPhillips, is set to run dry by 2022.
The Sunrise and Troubadour gas fields, together known as Greater Sunrise, were discovered in 1974 and hold around 5.1 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the project's operator, Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd., which holds a 33% stake in the project.
The fields also hold about 226 million barrels of condensate, an ultra-light form of crude oil that would help make the development more profitable.
"While we are aware of unofficial reports, the Sunrise Joint Venture has not been approached formally by Timor-Leste or ConocoPhillips on this matter," Woodside said in an email to Reuters.
The other owners are Royal Dutch Shell Plc (NYSE: RDS.A) and Japan's Osaka Gas.
State-owned company Timor Gap is looking to build a liquefied natural gas plant on the country's south coast, the Australian Financial Review said.
Timor Gap was not immediately available for comment. Pires did not respond to an email.
Under an agreement signed in March, East Timor will receive 70% of the royalty revenues from Greater Sunrise if the gas is piped to its shores or 80% if piped to Australia.