WHILE other countries may be more reliable and better equipped, Myanmar has emerged as the new promised land for global oil and gas giants unperturbed by a lack of data on its proven energy reserves.
Since political reforms helped Myanmar shed its outcast status and prompted international sanctions to be lifted, the world's major energy firms have been eyeing the potentially oil-and-gas-rich country tucked between China and India.
Thai explorer PTTEP, EPI Holdings of Hong Kong, Swiss firm Geopetro International Holding and Petronas of Malaysia were among a slew of companies to strike exploration deals last June.
In September, French giant Total bought a 40 per cent stake in an offshore exploration venture, soon followed by Australia's biggest energy firm Woodside - while several American and European majors are reportedly poised to join in.
The surge in interest is set to continue following Myanmar's invitation for tenders for 18 onshore oil blocks last month, with offers for a further 50 or so offshore blocks pending.
Yangon will host an international conference for the sector next month, as the buzz over the country's hydrocarbon reserves intensifies - even though very little is known about them.
"Due to the impact of economic sanctions on Myanmar for many years, there has been very limited recent investment," said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist for IHS Global Insight.
"Myanmar's oil and gas reserves have not been sufficiently explored using modern seismic technology, making it an exciting prospective exploration target."
Myanmar is one of the rare countries in the world that has not been fully surveyed and "there is huge interest in exploring what we call 'frontier basins'", said the spokesman of a foreign oil company.
"There is very little information. Prospects are wide open," he added, requesting anonymity.
The CIA estimates that Myanmar is sitting on some 50 million barrels of oil and some 283.2 billion cubic metres of natural gas.
On its webpage, the state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) cites a 2006 estimate of proven reserves, which stood at 226 million barrels of oil and 457 billions cubic metres of gas.
But sources admitted that there figures raised more questions than answers. The only widely agreed assumption is that offshore reserves are more promising than onshore, and gas probably supersedes oil.
Authorities "have been very cautious lately by not quoting any evaluation of discovered reserves or potential resources yet to be discovered", said Myo Tin, manager of the Myanmar Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Limited, which operates an oil field in the centre of the country.
Foreign firms must be encouraged to enter the sector, he said, citing the "technology intensive" nature of offshore sites that needs major firms "to transfer knowledge in exploration techniques, drilling and development".
More companies will also reduce the chance of oil giants monopolising territory, he said.
For Myanmar, it seems that now is the moment to finally fully exploit their natural resources. The sector represents 34 per cent of the country's exports and is set to grow. AFP