Chinese firm to explore oil in Costa Rica


San Jose : Costa Rica’s minister for environment and energy has said that state-owned China National Oil & Gas Exploration and Development Corp plans to explore oil in the country’s territorial waters, EFE news agency reported Friday.

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“The matter of petroleum exploration has always been one of the possibilities for us, even before the current government,” Roberto Dobles told a press conference in San Jose. He said a bilateral panel was already at work drafting a formal proposal.

The document will also lay the basis for cooperation on improving the refining process, training oil workers and in developing new petroleum derivatives like solvents and lubricants, the minister said.

Dobles said the search for petroleum would be guided by a policy mandating that “any energy project must also be environment friendly”.

“No one would be able to explore in protected areas or indigenous reserves. High environmental standards will be demanded,” he said.

Dobles pointed out that “government’s policy would not put the country’s energy at risk.” He pointed out that unless Costa Rica discovers oil at home, it will be forced to import heavy crude from Venezuela, which is expensive to refine and generates more pollution than lighter grades of oil.

In 2002, then-president Abel Pacheco declared a “moratorium on all petroleum exploration and production”, saying that Costa Rica would become an “environmental leader and not a petroleum or mining enclave”.

He said, “Costa Rica’s true petroleum and true gold are the water and oxygen produced” by its rainforests.

The moratorium prompted the US-based Harken Energy Corp to file suit against the Costa Rican government over a 1998 contract that allowed it to explore for oil in the Caribbean, an agreement that was revoked by Pacheco in 2005.

The Caribbean province of Limon and its coastal waters, as well as the northern province of San Carlos, near the border with Nicaragua, are among the places that could contain oil, Costa Rican officials said.

Several companies drilled in these areas decades ago, but they did not find any crude.

In November, following the first reports that China might be interested in searching for crude oil in the Central American nation, environmental groups have been protesting against such projects.

Oilwatch, one of the groups, said in a statement that the possibility of oil exploration was “news that caused indignation among environmental organisations”.