GEORGETOWN - International oil companies have started talks with the Guyanese government to begin exploration of a potentially oil- and gas-rich basin off the South American nation's coast, President Bharrat Jagdeo said Friday.
Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF and Toronto, Canada-based CGX Energy Inc. have met with Jagdeo to discuss exploring parts of the Guyana-Suriname Basin, an underwater area which industry experts have estimated may hold as much as 15 billion barrels of oil along with huge deposits of natural gas.
Jagdeo said he is eager to launch surveys after a ruling is issued under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea on a long-running border dispute between Guyana and Suriname that once brought the nations close to military conflict and has blocked fuel exploration in the area.
"We are hoping that as soon as we have a ruling on the arbitration we may see exploratory activities in the particular block bordering Suriname," the Guyanese president said after a meeting with oil company representatives.
The U.N. maritime body has said it expects to give a ruling on the decades-old border dispute between the two South American neighbors around May.
Surinamese leaders could not immediately be reached for comment.
Guyana and Suriname have been locked in the dispute over ownership of hundreds of square miles (square kilometers) of untapped territory off South America's northeast coast. The disputed area is a triangle of water running from the nations' land border at the coast out to the limit of their territorial waters.
In recent years, the two countries strengthened their militaries after coming close to conflict in 2000, when Suriname sent two gunboats to the region and expelled CGX Energy, halting its oil exploration there under a Guyanese license.
The 15-member Caribbean Community intervened, holding five mediating sessions that failed to reach an agreement.
Guyana filed a claim for the area with the Hamburg, Germany-based U.N. maritime body in 2004. Suriname filed a counterclaim shortly afterward and a U.N. tribunal has been studying the case ever since.