(Reuters) – Hess Corp’s HES.N chief executive on Wednesday said he is optimistic the recently elected government of Guyana will issue by the end of September a production license for the third phase of a major offshore oil project.

The South American nation has become one of the most important new oil and gas discoveries in the last decade, with more than 8 billion barrels of oil and gas, and is a bright spot for an industry dealing with demand loss due to the pandemic.

Hess and partners Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N and CNOOC Ltd 0883.HK are in “close communication” with officials, John Hess said at a virtual presentation to the Barclays CEO Energy-Power conference.

Government approval of the Payara project this month would keep it on track for producing oil in 2023, Hess said.

Exxon, which leads the consortium, previously said that delaying government approvals for sending a third vessel needed to start offshore production could postpone the startup by six to 12 months.

Production in the first phase of the Liza project in Guyana will reach full capacity of 120,000 barrels per day in coming weeks, Hess said. It delivered its first oil last December.

The partners on Tuesday said they had made their 18th discovery offshore Guyana, but did not outline development plans or estimate how much additional oil would be recoverable.

Guyana is a key part of growth plans for Exxon and Hess, and both have said they would prioritize spending there as they pull back elsewhere.

Current international oil prices around $40 a barrel do “not work for investing in increasing supply in the oil industry,” Hess said. “Obviously, one of the few exceptions to that is Guyana.”

Hess has pulled back to operating one drilling rig in the Bakken shale field in the United States and will consider “gradually adding” when oil reaches $50 per barrel, Hess said.

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