Venezuela and a consortium of Russian oil firms led by Rosneft have begun extracting oil from the petroleum-rich Orinoco Belt and signed a raft of new energy agreements.
Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez and Rosneft head Igor Sechin attended a ceremony Thursday at the Junin-6 bloc, operated by a joint venture between state-run Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Russian firms Gazprom, Lukoil and Rosneft.
The 55,000 square kilometer (21,000 square mile) field near the eastern town of Zuata is estimated to contain 220 million barrels of heavy crude, and operators hope to produce 450,000 barrels per day.
"Undoubtedly, this is one of the most interesting projects in the world," Sechin said as he, Ramirez and several workers dabbed oil on their faces for luck. Sechin said the consortium has invested $800 million in Venezuela.
The delegation later met with President Hugo Chavez, who signed eight new energy agreements, including one to invest $1.5 billion to develop the Carabobo field, expected to generate up to 300,000 barrels per day in the coming years.
"What happened today is historic," Chavez said.
"We are now at three million barrels per day. In 2014 we should be at four million and in 2019 at six million," he said.
The Latin American nation produces about three million barrels of oil per day, according to state figures, while the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) puts the number at 2.3 million barrels per day.
OPEC certified in 2011 that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world at 296.5 billion barrels, surpassing Saudi Arabia, the country with the biggest refining capacity.
In March, Venezuela said the reserves were even higher, at 297.57 billion.