Thursday, March 13, 2008

Argentina Guarantees Natural Gas to Chile

SANTIAGO, March 11 (Reuters) - Chile's government said on Tuesday it secured more natural gas from neighboring Argentina until colder weather sets in starting in May, at which time flows will only cover residential and commercial use.

Argentina cut its natural gas exports to Chile to a minimum last year, prioritizing its domestic market instead as sizzling economic growth spurred greater energy demand.

"The (Argentine) government ratified its commitment to providing sufficient natural gas so that residential and commercial supplies are uninterrupted, particularly during the winter months," Chile's National Energy Commission said in a statement.

Up until May, Buenos Aires will send bigger volumes of natural gas to Chile through the GasAndes pipeline and to northern and southern regions. These flows will resume after the cold months have passed, the commission said.

Demand for heating surges in both countries during the Southern Hemisphere's winter, and last year Argentina was forced to limit natural gas and power supplies for industrial and other large users to avoid residential shortages.

Chile depends exclusively on Argentina for natural gas and has suffered from frequent restrictions on flows since 2004.

Argentina's government announced late on Monday that it will raise taxes on its natural gas exports to help ensure domestic supplies, and it will also allow market prices to reign for new natural gas projects to stimulate more investment in the tightly regulated energy sector.

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