Beijing Stakes A Claim And Neighbors Are Howling

Ever since Indonesia began making plans to develop its Natuna natural-gas fields, officials have known the project wouldn't be easy. Analysts figure only a quarter of the estimated 210 trillion cubic feet of reserves--located 225 kilometers from the nearest island and 150 meters beneath the South China Sea--are commercially recoverable. To get that, Exxon Corp. and Pertamina, Indonesia's state oil-and-gas company, will have to spend eight years building 18 triple-decker drilling platforms the size of soccer fields. It took Exxon and Pertamina 15 years just to negotiate the $34 billion venture, signed in January.

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