The Gulf state, which aims to produce 60 million tonnes of gas a year by the end of 2011, signed a memorandum of understanding with US oil major ConocoPhillips on Monday.

Energy Minister Abd Allah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said the deal was worth $2.5 billion.

"The state of Qatar, which constructed its first gas liquifying plant in 1996, aims for a production capacity of 60 million tonnes of liquified gas by the start of the next decade," he said.

Al-Attiyah was addressing 500 experts participating in a four-day meeting in Doha to discuss the international oil and gas industries.

"The state of Qatar, which constructed its first gas liquifying plant in 1996, aims for a production capacity of 60 million tonnes of liquified gas by the start of the next decade"

Abd Allah bin Hamad al-Attiyah,
Qatar energy minister

Demand increase

If demand for crude increases by 50% to 120 million barrels per day, demand for gas production will grow by 300 billion cubic metres every year, Attiyah said.

In response to this increased world demand, investments of $6 trillion will be needed for the energy sector.

Al-Attiyah also stressed the Middle East will continue to be an important energy provider thanks to its vast reserves - estimated
 at 700 billion barrels or 66% of the world crude and gas reserves.

This latest project with ConocoPhillips calls for building a gas liquefying plant, to become operational in 2009 with a production capacity of 80,000 barrels per day.

This could increase in the final phase of the project at an estimated total cost of $5 billion, including $2.5 billion for the initial phase, developers said.

Massive reserves

Qatar has the world's third
largest gas reserves

The plant is to be based in Ras Laffan, 30 km north of Doha, where the Qatari authorities have initiated a series of projects to exploit their massive gas reserves, the third largest in the world after Russia and Iran.

Qatar Petroleum and South African minerals and hydrocarbons group Sasol initiated work on Sunday on a $1 billion gas-to-liquids joint venture.

The project, also in Ras Laffan, involves the construction of a plant to be completed in the first quarter of 2005 to start exporting in the second quarter of 2006.

A total of 9.9 million cubic metres of gas a day will be used to produce 34,000 barrels of fuel, liquified petroleum gas and naphtha, used as a feedstock for the chemical industry.

Royal Bank of Scotland will be the financial adviser for the 15-bank consortium underwriting $700 million of the project's cost, with Sasol guaranteeing the rest.

Qatar's North Field is the world's biggest natural gas field, with proven reserves that were increased threefold in May to 25.5 trillion cubic metres.