Oil exploration becomes booming business in Asia

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Oil exploration in Asia is booming as never before, China is gearing up to export drilling rigs, and foreign oil companies are continuing their bid to search for and drill offshore Chinese oil.

After years of talk, China is expected to offer its first parcel of sites for offshore exploration in mid-1981. A second parcel may come later in the year, with the first actual contract award to be made in 1982. Nearly 50 foreign companies are seeking cooperative arrangements to exploit Chinese oil. But it is still unclear exactly what kind of contracts the Chinese will offer.

Meanwhile China, which operates 16 oil exploration rigs of its own, is moving to export these complex drilling giants.

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Under arrangement with a Singapore company and with the US-based Bethlehem Steel Corporation, China will manufacture oil rigs in Canton.

There is speculation China might require foreign companies to buy and use the Canton-made rigs for operations off the Chinese coast.

For Singapore the arrangement means a chance to profit from a China connection. It means direct and indirect business for the island-state's rig yards, which are among the most advanced in the world.

Meanwhile the number of exploration rigs in both northern and southern Asian waters continues to rise.

In February 1981 there were 25 exploration rigs under contract in Southeast Asia, according to a recent speech by Leslie Beddoes, president of the Southeast Asia Petroleum Exploration Society. The number was only 18 in October 1980, he added. The 25 are in the area of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines , and Brunei.

Another 19 rigs were said to be active in the area of China, Japan, North and South Korea, and Taiwan in February, compared to 17 in October 1980. Sixteen of the rigs were operating in China.

Indonesia is an important exploration area, offering some 12 to 15 leases for such purposes a year. Earlier this year Caltex Pacific Indonesia paid a record

And exploration is increasing off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, and Brunei. Significant gas reserves have been found o ff the coast of Thailand.

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