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Turkmenistan allows Russia to work 3 Caspian Sea energy fields

Russian JSC Lukoil was allowed by Turkmenistan's government to work three fields in the energy-rich Caspian Sea, official media in the Central Asian nation reported Wednesday.

The reports came amid intensified international competition over access to Turkmenistan's vast oil and gas resources following the December death of Turkmenistan's long-ruling president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who had limited foreign access to the ex-Soviet republic's energy sector.

New Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov reached the agreement at a meeting in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Tuesday, the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said. Lukoil officials declined immediate comment.

Lukoil, Russia's largest private oil company, plans to begin to developing the "promising hydrocarbon fields" in the Turkmen section of the Caspian Sea shelf "in the near future," the paper said. It did not name the fields or specify whether they were believed to contain oil, natural gas or both.

Last month, Russia secured a deal with Turkmenistan and neighboring Kazakhstan to build a pipeline that would carry Turkmen natural gas to Russia and on to Europe - a blow to Western efforts to import Central Asian energy along new routes bypassing Russia.

The Russian state-controlled gas giant, JSC Gazprom, controls the only existing transit route for Turkmen gas exports to other ex-Soviet republics and Europe. Berdymukhamedov has said the country is interested in developing other routes to Europe and Asia.

Just two major foreign companies now extract oil in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian shelf, Malaysia's national oil company, Petroliam Nasional Bhd., or Petronas, and the United Arab Emirates' Dragon Oil PLC.

In May, Berdymukhamedov, who was elected president in February, invited U.S.-based Chevron Corp. to work in the Caspian.

The landlocked Caspian Sea is believed to contain the world's third-largest energy reserves. Turkmenistan shares rights to the sea floor with Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia. The nations have failed to agree on the boundaries of their respective sectors.

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