National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced Tuesday that a team led by US-based company Chevron Overseas Petroleum has discovered sizable crude oil deposits beneath Cambodian waters.
The announcement, which could not be independently confirmed by Chevron, came after a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the prince.
“This morning Prime Minister Hun Sen told me that they found crude oil,” Prince Ranariddh said. “We can develop our economy….
The Mekong River is our white gold, now we have the black gold.”
Three wells have struck oil, he said, adding that all three are contained within Cambodian territory undisputed by Thailand.
But he said that because the deposits are connected to those already being pumped by Thailand, Cambodia must act quickly or they will soon be empty.
“As I understand, we have to start taking [crude oil] by 2007,” he said. He added that Chevron has determined the deposits sizable enough to invest the money necessary to extract oil at the sites. The extraction is to commence in 2007, he added.
Prince Ranariddh said the prime minister told him the International Monetary Fund has asked the government to delay extraction because there is no legal structure in place to regulate a petroleum industry. The prince objected to this assessment.
“Why should we wait?” he said. “The crude oil belongs to Cambodia.”
National Petroleum Authority Director Te Doung Tara could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
According to company documents, Chevron Overseas Petroleum was granted a 70 percent interest in 6,278 square km offshore on March 20, 2002. The remaining 30 percent stake was awarded to a subsidiary of Mitsui Oil Exploration Co.
Chevron operates two producing fields in the Gulf of Thailand and has been exploring in overlapping territorial waters for several years. ChevronTexaco is the parent company of Caltex.
Earlier this year, a leaked sub-decree revealed that the government had agreed to cooperate with the company in exploring for natural gas in the coastal seabed.
Ranariddh acknowledged the project Tuesday, saying that the crude oil deposits discovered were far larger than those containing natural gas.
Former minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Pou Sothirak expressed surprise Tuesday at the apparent oil strike. He said that during the first government mandate he had asked a private company to explore the seabed, at a loss of between $3 million and $5 million. “The crude oil is the black gold, but I could not find it at that time,” he said.