--Woodside forms Cyprus venture with Delek, Enel, Edison
--Venture to bid for exploration blocks
--CEO says LNG a likely development path
(Adds composition of Cyprus joint venture in third paragraph; CEO comments on Cyprus from fifth paragraph; update on Pluto LNG expansion from eighth paragraph.)
By David Winning and Ross Kelly
Woodside Petroleum Ltd. (>> Woodside Petroleum Limited) has joined a consortium to bid for natural gas exploration blocks offshore the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, Chief Executive Peter Coleman said Monday, in the latest sign of international interest in an emerging energy province following a series of big discoveries.
Mr. Coleman told a conference that the bid plans reflected a desire to expand Woodside's global footprint to balance better its scale in Australia, where it operates two multi-billion dollar gas-export projects--the North West Shelf and Pluto--with ambitions to lead the development of two more.
Woodside will join Israel's Delek Group Ltd., Italy's Enel Trade SPA and France's Edison International SPA in the bid consortium, of which the Australian company holds a 30% stake.
Interest in the eastern Mediterranean's potential has grown following the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan fields, estimated to contain up to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 16 trillion cubic feet, respectively, offshore Israel in recent years by Woodside's competitors.
Coleman said it was too early to tell if Cyprus will house Woodside's next big energy development outside Australia.
"It's simply bidding on some exploration acreage," he told reporters.
"It's an emerging basin that's very close to market, and it's very close to those premium European markets."
Coleman said that the most likely development path for the gas would be to chill it for export by constructing a new liquefied natural gas plant. Cyprus has already identified a site where it would like an LNG plant to be situated. Woodside's capabilities may "play well" to the development of large discoveries offshore Israel too but no commercial discussions have taken place in that regard, Coleman said.
Separately, the executive said Woodside still hasn't discovered enough gas to underpin a desired expansion of its A$14.9 billion Pluto project in Western Australia state. "The drilling program hasn't delivered on what we hoped a couple of years ago. We've got a few more wells to drill, and in about the third quarter we'll decide whether we need to take a break or not," Coleman said.
Woodside is also talking to potential third party suppliers to the project. Analysts have speculated that Hess Corp. (HES) or the Scarborough joint venture between BHP Billiton Ltd. (>> BHP Billiton Limited) and ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM) are considering processing their gas through LNG projects on the coast operated by Woodside and Chevron Corp. (CVX).
-By David Winning and Ross Kelly, Dow Jones Newswires; +61-2-82724688; firstname.lastname@example.org
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