By Sebastian Alison
ALMATY, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Italian energy group ENI's Agip SpA has won the operatorship of Kazakhstan's giant Kashagan oilfield, one of the world's largest untapped oil finds, an industry source said on Monday.
The source was speaking on the sidelines of a government meeting with the nine-member OKIOC consortium to hammer out a deal on the operatorship.
Earlier Kazakh Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev told Reuters he thought Agip would be the likely winner. ``I do not know for sure, but as for the first results, the talk is about Agip,'' Tokayev said.
ENI's selection is a major coup for the company.
``It is a very complex development and it's going to be a very long term development,'' said an oil sector analyst at Commerzbank in London.
``And for the likes of (rivals) Exxon, Shell and Total to accept ENI as the operator is a big compliment.''
OKIOC, the Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Company, discovered oil last July in its first test well at the giant Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea.
Kazakhstan's government delegation at the talks, held in the commercial capital Almaty, was led by Vladimir Shkolnik, who is both deputy prime minister and minister of energy and mineral resources.
A senior official with OKIOC told Reuters the meeting in Almaty followed Friday's meeting by shareholders in London. He added that OKIOC had not been informed of the results of those talks by its shareholders, and expected any announcement on the operatorship to come from the Kazakh government.
OKIOC, currently drilling its second test well on the field, has come under pressure recently from President Nursultan Nazarbayev to select anoperator.
Nazarbayev said last year that Kazakhstan could produce as much as eight million barrels per day of crude, rivalling Saudi Arabia, by 2015, when the country's three most promising fields, Kashagan, Tengiz and
Karachaganak, are all at full production.
OKIOC groups Phillips Petroleum, ExxonMobil, BP Amoco, BG plc, Royal Dutch/Shell, TotalFinaElf , Statoil, ENI's Agip and Japan's Inpex.
Statoil announced on Monday that it had agreed to sell its 4.76 percent stake to TotalFinaElf.
This followed a recent announcement by BP Amoco that it had agreed to sell its 9.5 percent stake in the project to TotalFinaElf, which would give the French group a holding of over 28.5 percent if both deals went through.
But under a shareholder agreement, each partner has the right of first refusal on its share of any stake that comes on the market.
The OKIOC official said further changes in the group's ownership were likely. ``I don't think it'll be the last we hear on shareholding changes in the next few months,'' he said.
Russia, Iran and Turkey are all vying to transport the oil from the landlocked republic.