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Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp., a government-owned explorer, and Russia’s Irkutsk Oil Co. will jointly develop two fields in eastern Siberia as Japan seeks to reduce reliance on supplies from the Middle East.

The companies signed an initial agreement Tuesday to form a joint venture. Jogmec, as the Japanese explorer is known, will hold 49 percent stakes in the two fields.

The agreement coincides with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tokyo, where the two countries are to sign a pact on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Japan imports more than 80 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia and neighboring states.

“The Eastern Siberian area has the advantage of geographical proximity to Japan and rich potential in oil and natural gas reserves,” Jogmec said in a statement on its Web site. “Development has been delayed by the harsh natural surroundings and a lack of infrastructure that has prevented sufficient research.”

Jogmec and Irkutsk Oil will conduct exploration work on the 3,307-sq.-km Bolshetirsky field and the 4,835-sq.-km Zapadno-Yaraktinsky area.

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