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Statoil Buys Access to Gas Market

OSLO, Norway -- The state-controlled oil company Statoil ASA on Thursday announced an agreement with El Paso Corp. giving the Norwegian group direct access to the American natural gas market as part of an international expansion drive. Under the agreement, Houston-based El Paso will release about one-third of the capacity of a liquefied natural gas terminal at Cove Point, Md., for Statoil's use over 20 years starting in 2003, a Statoil news release said. "This secures Statoil direct access to the U.S. gas market," the statement said. The two companies also signed a $210 million agreement for Statoil to take over El Paso's purchase contract for 2.4 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, each year from the Snoehvit field being developed by Statoil off Norway's arctic region. That deal lasts from 2006 through 2023. "Both of these transactions are in line with our LNG strategy," . "Access to the high-value gas markets on the U.S. East Coast represents an attractive opportunity for Statoil," said Olav Fjell, Statoil's chief executive. Statoil, Norway's biggest petroleum company, has been actively expanding its foreign operations in Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Iran in the past two years. Based in the western Norway port of Stavanger, the company was founded in 1972 to oversee the nation's oil interests. It was partly privatized last year, when the state sold 17.5 percent of its shares to private investors.