State-owned China National Petroleum Corp. won the first exploration contracts doled out in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. It beat out four other bidders for the rights to exploit three blocks in the country's northwest, London newspaper The Independent reports.
The three blocks -- Bazarkhami, Kashkari and Zamarudsay -- hold an estimated 80 million barrels of oil. The Chinese company is already involved in similar operations in neighboring Turkmenistan, which could start sending its natural gas to Asian consumers through a Western-backed pipeline through Afghanistan within the next few years.
The CNPC contracts follow a 2007 deal in Afghanistan for China Metallurgical Corp. for the rights to mine copper deposits in the south of the country. Afghanistan is mineral rich but holds only an estimated 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil.
Kabul doesn't except production at the three northwest fields to start until 2014 because of archeological finds in the area.