Gabon seeks tougher terms from oil companies

Mon Dec 3, 2012 7:10am EST
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* Oil executives say Gabon demanding tougher terms, back-tax claims

* State also seeking equity stakes in new contracts

* Oil minister says conducting audits on contracts

* Executives say Sinopec unit threatened with loss of oil field

By Tom Bergin and Shadia Nasralla

LONDON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Gabon is seeking to squeeze more money out of foreign oil companies operating in the country, executives say, potentially damping enthusiasm for a long-awaited deepwater licensing round due next year.

The move mirrors similar steps by resource-rich nations around the world over the past decade, when countries such as Kazakhstan or Venezuela clawed back projects or tightened the terms for international companies as energy prices soared.

Oil accounts for around half of Gabon's economy but output has fallen by a third since peaking at 370,000 barrels per day in 1997. However, the country's reserves are put at around 3.7 billion barrels, giving it several decades yet of hydrocarbon wealth.

The West African country's government has launched audits of oil producers that have led to big back-tax claims and is demanding tougher terms for, and equity stakes in, new contracts, said executives, who declined to be named for fear of jeopardising their interests in the country.   Continued...