BP on verge of Azeri deal

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AFTER two years' on-off discussions, a consortium of western oil companies led by British Petroleum is expected to clinch an agreement this week to develop two massive oil fields in Azerbaijan, writes Neil Thapar.

John Browne, chief executive of BP's exploration division, is flying out to Baku, the Azeri capital, for the formal signing of the deal on Tuesday.

The project, which aims to develop about 4 billion barrels of proven reserves, is dominated by US companies. Apart from BP, the UK contingent includes Ramco Energy, the USM-quoted oil services group whose shares surged 37p to 258p on Friday in anticipation of the deal. The venture, which will require billions of pounds of investment, is one of several big breakthroughs by BP in the past three years.

The company said last week that it had discovered two huge gas fields containing 2 trillion cubic feet of gas off the Vietnamese coast.

The find, revealed exclusively by the Independent on Sunday, has been earmarked for early development to supply the growing local market.

It is understood British Gas, National Power and PowerGen may build a gas- fired power station there.