AKTOBE/AKTAU, Kazakhstan (Yonhap) -- Korea is striving to bolster its energy self-reliance, and at the heart of such efforts is Kazakhstan, with oil reserves of over 30 billion barrels.



Korea's partnership with the Central Asian country began in 2004 when a South Korean consortium led by the state-run Korean National Oil Corp. (KNOC) set up an oil company, ADA Oil LLP, here in Kazakhstan's western province of Aktobe.


The KNOC has since expanded its stakes to eight active mines and exploration projects in Kazakhstan with its purchase of a 95 percent stake in a Kazakh exploration company, Altius Holdings, in March, marking its latest expansion.


Altius alone has four active mines with over 50 million barrels of estimated oil reserves and is producing about 10,000 barrels per day. ADA also has an exploration mine in the province that already yields a daily average of 3,500 barrels.


Such an aggressive expansion comes as the KNOC seeks to increase its global daily production from the current 200,000 barrels to 300,000 barrels in 2012.


"When the ADA mine becomes active next year, its daily production will likely climb up to 6,500 barrels," Shin Yong-hwa, an official from KNOC's Kazakhstan office, said in a recent meeting with reporters in Aktobe.


Korea consumes an average of 2.3 million barrels of oil per day and nearly the entirely amount is currently imported from overseas as most of oil produced by the KNOC and other South Korean companies abroad are sold locally.


"The point is to secure production sources that can supply our country's needs in times of crisis, not to actually bring the oil to our country, which often costs more than to buy from countries that carry significantly lower shipping costs," Shin said.


Kazakhstan's lack of direct access to an ocean pushes up the final price of oil, even those produced by the KNOC, when they reach South Korea, even though the KNOC does have routes to ship oil from here to South Korea in times of crisis, such as a sudden hike of global oil prices.


Still, the vast unexplored territories and the world's 11th-largest oil reserve in Kazakhstan make it one of the most attractive destinations for countries such as South Korea that have a large appetite for the fossil fuel but limited or no resources of its own.


That is why the KNOC is still expanding its operations into Kazakhstan's westernmost province of Aktau, bordered by the Caspian Sea.


The company currently has two active oil fields -- Arystan and Khulzan -- whose combined daily production is expected to reach 20,000 barrels in the near future, according to officials from the KNOC office in Aktau.


The KNOC also has a 9.45 percent stake in a joint exploration project -- Zhambyl -- in the oil-rich Caspian Sea.


"Kazakhstan is a country where the KNOC posted nothing but success from exploration to production," said Ryou Sang-soo, president of KNOC Kazakhstan. "And we will continue to be more successful here as we only have room for growth."