BAKU, Nov 20 (Reuters) - French oil firm Total expects to start production at Azerbaijan's Apsheron gas field in the Caspian Sea in 2021, a senior company official said, boosting the ex-Soviet republic's potential as a major gas exporter.
Total and Azeri state energy company SOCAR formed a joint venture in 2009 to explore and develop the Apsheron field, which has estimated reserves of 350 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas and 45 tonnes of gas condensate.
"The final investment decision is expected to be made in the fourth quarter of 2017, and the first commercial drilling to start in the fourth quarter of 2019," Eric Meyer, Total's planning development manager, said at the "Oil & Gas Week" conference in Baku.
"So the first gas will be produced in the fourth quarter of 2021."
The Apsheron venture expects to produce 5 bcm of gas per year.
Total and SOCAR both hold 40 percent stakes in the venture. French group GDF Suez, which joined the project later, owns 20 percent.
Total started exploration on the Apsheron prospect in 2011. Meyer said the project's development programme was expected to be ready by mid-2015 and would be presented to the Azeri government.
Total decided to concentrate on the Apsheron project after deciding to sell its 10 percent stake in Shah Deniz II, another major Azeri gas project in the Caspian. (Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by Jane Baird)