Ukraine's state-run energy firm Naftogaz and U.S. oil and gas major ExxonMobil have signed a preliminary agreement on exploring and developing shale gas deposits in Ukraine, Naftogaz said late on Thursday.
According to the U.S.-based Energy Information Administration, Ukraine has Europe's fourth-largest shale gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet (1.2 trillion cubic metres), trailing Poland, France and Norway. The former Soviet republic is keen to boost domestic gas output to ease its dependence on Russia which has led to frequent rows over price in the last few years.
Naftogaz did not disclose any details of its agreement with ExxonMobil, which is an active shale gas player in neighbouring Poland. Last month, Ukraine said it would sign a $800 million shale gas deal with Shell (RDSa.L). Naftogaz said it had also signed a cooperation agreement with Total on potential Black Sea shelf gas exploration and a service deal with Halliburton .
In January 2009, a pricing row between Moscow and Kiev resulted in the stoppage of Russian gas flows to Europe for about two weeks, tarnishing Moscow's image as a reliable exporter and spurring a European quest for new suppliers.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's administration says the agreement that ended the 2009 row, brokered by then prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was a sell-out of national interests, although it is abiding by the terms.
But Ukraine and Russia have so far failed to agree on new conditions for gas supply, although the sides have stepped up contacts in recent weeks and announce significant progress in the negotiations.