Azeri oil output falls in Jan-Sept, gas increases

BAKU, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Azerbaijan's oil and condensate output fell in the nine months to end-September, extending a 2011 drop, state energy company SOCAR said, after the government decided to slow output to prolong the life of reserves.

Maintenance at some main fields contributed to the fall in oil output, while gas production rose from plentiful reserves.

Oil and condensate production fell 7.8 percent to 32.8 million tonnes from 35.5 million in the same period of last year. Natural gas output rose 1.6 percent to 19.7 billion cubic metres (bcm) from 19.4 bcm.

Azerbaijan is reducing extraction rates of its oil reserves to extend the duration of production, the State Statistics Committee head said in April, a move that could lead to lower-than-expected economic growth in 2012.

The country's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 1.5 percent in the first half of 2012 against a 0.9 percent rise in the first half of 2011.

Officials at BP and SOCAR also say the geology of the country's main oilfields Azeri-Chirag Guneshli has fallen short of original expectations, but have cited maintenance when explaining the falls of the past 18 months.

The country expects to produce 44-45 million tonnes of oil and 27-28 bcm of gas in 2012.

Last year, its oil and condensate production fell 10.7 percent to 45.4 million tonnes from 50.8 million in 2010, partly due to maintenance at some platforms and refineries. Natural gas output fell 2.3 percent to 25.7 bcm from 26.2 bcm in 2010.

The former Soviet republic ships its oil via five main routes: Russia's largest Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, neighbouring Georgia's Supsa, Batumi and Kulevi ports, and Turkey's Ceyhan.

Azerbaijan sells gas to the domestic market and to Georgia and Turkey via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline as well as to Russia.

(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; editing by James Jukwey)