Oil in the DPRK’s waters

Hat tip to the Korea Liberator:

China and North Korea announce joint efforts to extract oil from the Yellow Sea. According to Yahoo News:

Tuesday June 6, 12:07 PM
China and North Korea have agreed to explore jointly for oil in the Yellow Sea that borders both countries, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

‘China and North Korea have agreed on the joint development of oil resources in the border sea and signed a joint development agreement between governments,’ ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists.

Liu gave no further details other than to say the two nations will continue work on the details of the arrangements.

Another foreign ministry official later confirmed the area to be jointly developed will be in the Yellow Sea.

The announcement came as North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun ended an eight-day visit to China today, a trip that Liu described as ‘successful’ while giving away few other details.

According to a report issued in December by the Washington-based Center for International Policy, North Korea has already laid claim to three northernmost Yellow Sea basins thought to hold oil.

The North Koreans had discovered up to 3 bln tons of recoverable oil and gas reserves in the Yellow Sea off its coast, the center said, citing a report by Chinese authors in the Marine Geology Letters journal.

China’s foreign ministry gave few details about Paek’s visit to China, other than to say he met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

But how much reserves does the DPRK have?  According to the Center for International Policy’s Asia Program,

One-third of 15 exploratory wells have shown oil, and Pyongyang may be sitting on information about larger deposits.

“North Korea has found on the continental shelf of the West Bay basin an area containing 3bn tonnes (21.9bn barrels) of oil and gas reserves,” Li Yandong and Mo Jie wrote in a 2002 issue of journal Marine Geology Letters.

North Korea says these are recoverable reserves pinpointed by its own scientists, said a Chinese expert with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be named.

Even a more modest estimate of 1.2bn barrels reported by Busuph Park, an expert in North Korea’s offshore efforts, would meet centuries of current consumption, although some academics say the peninsula has almost no commercial oil.

At the North Korean embassy in Beijing, an official dismissed with a laugh reports of up to 9bn tonnes of reserves and said the country was still investigating.

Additionally, the story points out the the British company Aminex has committed to building North Korea’s oil industry.  Chief Executive Brian Hall told Reuters, “We have involved their people and are training them, so we are trying to build ourselves into the framework of things.”

“They can take a very long time to do things, we have quite a high degree of frustration sometimes. You have to be prepared to tough it out… but the prize is worth persevering for.”

UK oil firm strides into N Korea


Anglo-Irish oil company Aminex has signed a 20-year deal to develop North Korea’s oil industry.

Aminex said it would provide technical assistance to North Korea. In addition, it will be permitted to explore and drill throughout the secretive country.

Should Aminex strike oil, it will get royalties on any of its own production, as well as being entitled to earnings from wells drilled by other firms.

Aminex believes its prospects of striking oil in North Korea are good.

“We all dream of making a big discovery,” chief executive Brian Hall told BBC News Online. “And if you don’t put yourself in a position where the possibilities are high, you will never do it.”

A number of potential sites are close to some of China’s most productive oil fields, he said. Announcing the contract, Aminex called North Korea as “highly prospective”.

Patience rewarded

The company, which is listed on the London and Dublin stock markets, reckons that a lack of resources has so far restricted progress in prospecting for oil the East Asian country.

North Korea “has an existing petroleum industry and several wells have been drilled onshore and offshore over a 25 year period, resulting in limited discoveries of oil,” Mr Hall.

Aminex has been looking at opportunities in North Korea since its first visit there in 2001.

It signed a deal with North Korean officials on 30 June 2004 in Pyongyang but postponed an announcement “because of a number of outstanding issues that have now been resolved”.

Mr Hall said he hoped that developing the oil industry might help to thaw international relations, which have become frosty in recent months amid concerns about the country’s nuclear programme.

“At present, relations between North Korea and the outside world are strained but the important relationship with South Korea appears to be improving and commercial co-operation is on the increase,” said Mr Hall.

“An expanding energy industry may possibly help to build bridges between North Korea and the outside world.”

Tough environment

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive countries, and among the poorest.

Millions of are thought to have died during the famine of the late 1990s. More recently, North Korean officials have made tentative steps towards economic reforms similar to those implemented by China, one of its few allies. But tensions over the country’s nuclear programme remain a stumbling block to investment.

Aminex has existing operations in the US, Russia and Tanzania.


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