Venezuela says Belarus to help certify Orinoco oil reserves

CARACAS (MarketWatch) -- Venezuela has invited Belarus to help certify its extra-heavy oil reserves in the Orinoco river basin, the Venezuelan government said in a statement Friday.

According to the statement, the two countries have signed a memorandum of understanding to certify the reserves in the Junin 1 block of the Orinoco. The Orinoco area holds over 235 billion barrels of recoverable tar oil, one of the largest hydrocarbons deposits on the planet, according to current government estimates.

Venezuela is already working with state-run firms from countries including China, India and Iran to tap new reserves in the area. Venezuela hopes to boost its total proven and recoverable reserves to 315 billion barrels after the Orinoco certification program is completed in 2008.

President Hugo Chavez has sought to strengthen ties with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukanshenko after visiting the former Soviet state in July.

Chavez, a fierce opponent of U.S. foreign and economic policies, is looking to attract oil investment from foreign state oil companies instead of the traditional western oil majors Venezuela has historically done business with.

None of the six majors who currently pump oil in the Orinoco - Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Total (TOT), Chevron Corp. (CVX), BP Plc (BP), Conoco (COP) and Statoil (STO) - have been invited to help calculate the reserves in the currently undeveloped blocks.