AP Interview: E. Timor president hopes undersea pipeline will go to his country

Frank Jordans

June 24th, 2009

E. Timor president hopes for decision on pipeline

GENEVA — East Timor’s president said Wednesday venture partners in a vast underwater oil and gas field would be better served if they choose to lay a deep sea pipeline to his country instead of Australia.

President Jose Ramos-Horta said he hopes agreement on where to pump oil and gas from the Greater Sunrise field will be reached by the end of the year.

“We are closer to the market, which is China and Japan and so on, and our tax regime is far simpler and generous than Australia’s,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

“I believe it should come to Timor Leste in the interest of the investors and the interest of the two countries,” Ramos-Horta said, using his country’s official name.

Greater Sunrise is estimated to contain about 300 million barrels of light oil and 8.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth around $90 billion. It lies closer to East Timor’s shores but with a deep trench known as the Timor Trough in the way.

“Technology today allows for deep water pipelines,” Ramos-Horta said. “Technology-wise there is no problem. Cost-wise in bringing the pipeline to Timor-Leste or Australia, it’s still to be decided.”

Australia and its largest oil company, Woodside Petroleum Ltd., have argued it would be cheaper and safer to build a pipeline to Darwin in northern Australia.

Australian officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday.

But Woodside has said in the past that the venture partners would consider the results of an independent study commissioned by East Timor.

Excess oil and gas from Greater Sunrise and other fields in the region would be sold to generate revenue for East Timor, Ramos-Horta said.

The Southeast Asian country, which only gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, already earns some $100 million from oil and gas exports each month, and has built up foreign currency reserves of almost $5 billion while having almost no debt, he said.

Some of that money could be invested into other forms of energy production such as solar and wind power as part of an ambitious plan to become energy independent and contribute to efforts to reduce climate change.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event on climate change organized by Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum, Ramos-Horta said it was up to countries like East Timor to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for rich polluters to help.

“Do not have any illusions that the rich are going to help you mitigate the impact of climate change,” he said.

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