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Originally published January 26, 2010 at 10:15 PM | Page modified January 27, 2010 at 4:14 PM

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Haiti quake may have revealed oil reserves

The earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people in Haiti this month may have left clues to petroleum reservoirs that could aid economic...

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NEW YORK — The earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people in Haiti this month may have left clues to petroleum reservoirs that could aid economic recovery in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, a geologist said.

The Jan. 12 earthquake was on a fault line that passes near potential gas reserves, said Stephen Pierce, a geologist who worked in the region for 30 years for companies including the former Mobil Corp. The quake may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep toward the surface, he said Monday.

"A geologist, callous as it may seem, tracing that fault zone from Port-au-Prince to the border looking for gas and oil seeps, may find a structure that hasn't been drilled," said Pierce, exploration manager at Zion Oil & Gas, a Dallas-based company that's drilling in Israel. "A discovery could significantly improve the country's economy and stimulate further exploration."

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive met Monday in Montreal with diplomats, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to discuss redevelopment initiatives. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said wind power may play a role in rebuilding the Caribbean nation, where forests have been denuded for lack of fuel, the Canadian Press reported.

"Haiti, from the standpoint of oil and gas exploration, is a lot less developed than the Dominican Republic," Pierce said. "One could do a lot more work there."

The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. It may have 3 million barrels of oil in a shallow offshore formation that's probably also shared by Haiti, Pierce said.

"One of the main reasons for the dearth of information on reserves in Haiti is that the Dominican Republic has numerous surface-hydrocarbon seeps while Haiti had very, very few," he said.

Abraham Lincoln's consul to the Dominican Republic reported oil seeps there in 1862. Neither nation produces oil or gas. As much as 1 trillion cubic feet of gas may be trapped in a border formation near the earthquake fault, Pierce said.

Pierce said he's unaware of any petroleum geologists conducting fieldwork in Haiti. There has been exploration of Ocoa Bay, the largest potential oil deposit in the Dominican Republic, he said.

The Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and their offshore waters, probably hold at least 142 million barrels of oil and 159 billion cubic feet of gas, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Undiscovered amounts may be as high as 941 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the report.

Among nations in the northern Caribbean, Cuba and Jamaica have awarded offshore leases for oil and gas development.

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