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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Venezuela Delays Giving Oil Pact Details

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's oil minister has delayed submitting to congress details on new oil contracts that are being awaited by private energy producers.
Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez was scheduled to deliver to the National Assembly on Thursday the general guidelines for new joint-venture agreements that bring operations by private oil firms here under state control.
But Mario Isea, a lawmaker from congress's Energy and Mines Commission, said a group of lawmakers will meet with Deputy Oil Minister Bernard Mommer on Friday to discuss progress on the new business model and that the final document will not be ready until next month.
President Hugo Chavez's government last year declared as illegal previous contracts under which foreign oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Chevron Corp., BP PLC, and Brazil's Petrobras SA independently pumped oil at 32 Venezuelan fields.
It has since ordered the firms to become minority shareholders in new ''mixed companies'' controlled by state firm Petroleos de Venezuela SA. Congress must approve the general guidelines for the new ventures, as well as the specific contracts for each new company.
Ramirez has said the government will group the 32 fields into 19 separate companies and that PDVSA, as the state firm is known, will have stakes of 60 percent or more in each venture.
Industry analysts say investment by the companies have stalled as they await the outcome of the difficult contract negotiations.
The contract overhaul is part of the Chavez government's wider strategy to gain more control over private oil operations and increase revenue from existing oil output.
The 32 fields pump approximately 500,000 barrels a day, roughly a fifth of the Venezuela's total petroleum production, according to industry estimates.
Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest exporter of oil and among the top five suppliers to the United States.

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