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Russia's Lukoil (NASDAQOTH: LUKOY ) and France's Total SA (NYSE: TOT ) have reportedly signed a memorandum to develop the Bazhenov shale oil fields in western Siberia, according to Russian news agencies.
The announcement comes after Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) and Russia's Gazprom Neft (NASDAQOTH: OGZPY ) launched drilling in January in Bazhenov, which is being compared to the highly prolific US Bakken shale.
Lukoil CEO Vagin Alekperov said the company plans to extract some 100,000 tons of oil—or 733,000 barrels—this year from Bazhenov.
According to the Financial Times, Lukoil's potential partnership with Total would "mark a change of strategy for the Russian group, which until now has opted to develop its Russian assets alone."
Total SA is represented in Bazhenov through a 16% stake in Russia's second-largest gas producer, Novatek.
The Bazhenov covers 2.3 million square kilometers or 570 million acres, which is the size of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico combined and represents an area 80 times larger than Bakken.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an estimated 75 billion barrels of technically recoverable shale oil resources may lie in the Bazhenov formation.
In early January this year, Shell and Gazprom Neft began drilling at Bazhenov through their joint venture, Salym Petroleum Development (SDP).
What all parties are eyeing is the prolific cracks and fractures in the shale, which could ease the flow of oil and lead to lower production costs, while test wells have so far been operating at around 400 bpd, which is comparable to test well averages at Bakken.
ExxonMobil has also been attracted to the area and plan to start a $300 million pilot project drilling with Russia's Rosneft this year.
Moscow has introduced tax breaks to incentivize exploration of the Bazhenov and other shale plays, while recent Western sanctions threats over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March have done little to scare investors away from Russia.
Earlier this week, Siemens announced that its planned investments with Russian Railways and Gazprom would go head unhindered, and German oil producer Wintershall Holding GmbH is likewise still eyeing a deal with Lukoil.
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