Gas discovery boosts Bolivia's reserves


Leftist President Evo Morales announced Wednesday the discovery by French energy giant Total of natural gas deposits that he said would boost Bolivia's reserves by 30 percent.

The Aquio field's deposits will increase Bolivia's gas output by 6.5 million cubic meters a day when it begins operating in 2015, and reach 18 million cubic meters by 2020 with additional drilling, the state-run YPFB energy company said.

The poor Andean country currently produces 41 million cubic meters of gas daily, selling it chiefly to Brazil and Argentina.

The discovery is Bolivia's biggest since Morales took office in 2006. Declaring the nation's gas fields "nationalized," he renegotiated contracts with multinationals to give the state a bigger share of profits, alienating many foreign investors.

"This is important news for the country," Morales said in a speech at the Aquio field in Bolivia's Chaco region some 400 miles (620 kilometers) southeast of La Paz.

He said the discovery brings Bolivia's total gas reserves to 13 trillion cubic meters.

"This discovery is a strong commitment by Total in Bolivia," said the president of the company's local subsidiary, Jean Daniel Blasco.

Exploratory drilling at Aquio began last year with an investment of $70 million by Total and its Italian-Argentine partner Tecpetrol.

The president of Bolivia's state-owned energy company, YPFB, said the companies would need to invest an additional $800 million in a pipeline and processing plant to bring the field into production.

Gas is Bolivia's most valuable commodity and No. 1 export, responsible for $1.7 billion in income last year.

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