Agence France Presse

New Delhi, March 5:

Fuel-hungry India signed a deal on Saturday to take a 49 per cent stake in a Venezuelan oil field, boosting energy ties between one of Asia’s biggest consuming economies and one of the world’s largest exporters. Under the agreement reached in New Delhi, Indian state-controlled energy giant Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), which is scouring the globe to meet the country’s ever-expanding fuel needs, will take a 49 per cent stake in the San Cristobal oil field. “For us to receive 49 per cent plus the operatorship is a huge advance and with that I am now truly well positioned to commercialize exploration work, India’s petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told reporters.

The signing of the agreement came on the second day of a four-day visit by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to India. As part of the agreement, one of six signed in New Delhi, PDVSA or Petroleos de Venezuela is taking a stake in ONGC’s refining subsidiary, Mangalore refinery and petrochemicals Ltd. The agreement between Venezuela, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, and India, which imports 70 per cent of its crude oil needs, will pave the way for the Mangalore refinery to process Venezuelan crude. ONGC has been aggressively pursuing energy supplies abroad and taken stakes in fuel projects in Russia, Libya and Sudan, among other countries, and recently struck an agreement to import natural gas from Iran.

As India’s economy, now growing at around seven per cent, continues to expand, its reliance on imported crude is expected to grow to around 85 per cent in the next 20 years. Chavez, who has said Venezuela is keen to share its “oil potential” with India, has struck oil deals with countries including large ones with China. India and China are fierce rivals in the quest to secure energy supplies. Other agreements signed by the two sides included an agreement for cooperation in the hydrocarbons sector and memorandums of understanding in such areas as biotechnology.