SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan (AP) — Jordan and Royal Dutch Shell PLC signed a concessionary agreement Sunday to explore for oil in the country’s vast oil shale deposits.

Jordanian Oil Minister Khaldoun Qteishat and Shell Vice Chairman Malcolm Brinded signed the deal on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

Shell will spend $540 million in the project’s preliminary exploratory and assessment phase before commercial operation.

Jordan, which sits atop an estimated 40 billion tons of oil shale deposits, imports 95 percent of its energy needs.

Qteishat said the “long-term concessionary agreement will take many years to prove and study” whether Jordan’s reserves will produce the badly needed oil.

Qteishat said the agreement will be sent to parliament for final approval next month.

Brinded said Shell will examine the most promising of Jordan’s 21 oil shale locations and “hone in on the area that is most promising” for its pilot program.

Jordan also signed 12 other agreements on the sidelines of the three-day conference, which ends Sunday.

The deals include making the 40-square-kilometer (25-square-mile) Dead Sea area a tourist development zone, and a water conveyance project to pump 700 million cubic meters (24.7 billion cubic feet) of fresh water from the Red Sea to deal with water shortage in the country and offset declining water levels in the Dead Sea — the lowest point on earth.