Maritime Treaty Opens Up Gas Field For Shell Joint Venture

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said developing Greater Sunrise would "require the support of the private sector oil and gas joint venture companies whose capacity to develop and operate the project will depend on its economic viability".

The treaty was signed at the United Nations headquarters in NY by Foreign Julie Bishop and East Timor's Deputy Prime Minister Agio Pereira.

The treaty was brokered by the Conciliation Commission established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Ms Bishop said: "This treaty represents the importance of rules and the benefits of all states abiding by the rules".

The treaty ends a long a bitter dispute between the neighboring countries and paves the way for exploitation of billions of dollars in gas and oil under the Timor Sea - with at least 70 percent of the revenue to go to impoverished East Timor.

Access to the gas fields could generate significant revenue for Indonesia, Professor Rothwell said.

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The fields, which are thought to contain 5.1 trillion cubic feet of gas and 226 million barrels of condensates, would provide a huge economic boost to Timor-Leste, one of Asia's poorest countries, AFP reported. "And it was important to both Australia and Timor Leste to achieve successful results", he said.

East Timor's oil revenues, which finance more than 90 percent of government spending, are rapidly dwindling due to the exhaustion of existing fields in its territory.

It's also likely to increase East Timor's ownership of the more lucrative Greater Sunrise. As has been assessed previously in the Strategic Weekly Analysis, that was a concern for the Australian negotiators, who wished to keep the Timor-Leste boundary consistent with that of Indonesia to 'prevent the re-emergence of some of the uncertainties that still pertain to the Australian-Indonesian maritime boundary.' Specifically, Indonesia has yet to ratify the 1997 Australia-Indonesia Maritime Delimitation Treaty, the last of four treaties pertaining to its maritime boundary with Australia. The country's $16 billion sovereign wealth fund could be empty within 10 years because the government's annual withdrawals are exceeding its investment returns, according to La'o Hamutuk, an East Timorese research institute. But by 1989, after a decade of talks, Australia and Indonesia agreed to disagree on where the line should be drawn for the sake of allowing oil and gas drilling in the resource-rich Timor Sea to proceed. Canberra denied the allegation.

It is hoped the deal, signed at the United Nations in NY, will end the bitter dispute over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

"As good friends and close neighbours, we want Timor Leste to achieve its potential".

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