MELBOURNE, June 8 (Reuters) - A dispute between two Australian energy companies escalated on Thursday, potentially delaying a promising oil project off Senegal which was due to start producing as early as 2021.
Woodside Petroleum, Australia's biggest independent oil and gas producer, said FAR Ltd had advised that it would not support arrangements for Woodside to become operator of the deepwater SNE project.
"Woodside does not believe that FAR's claims have any merit," the company said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange.
Woodside was due to become operator of the project later this year, after having bought a 35 percent stake in the project from ConocoPhillips last year.
FAR contends that it should have had pre-emptive rights over the ConocoPhillips stake, which was sold for what was considered a cheap price of $350 million, and has said the Senegalese government has yet to approve the deal.
"These actions by FAR put at risk the timely development of the SNE oil field in a prospective emerging basin," Woodside Chief Executive Peter Coleman said in the statement.
FAR has a 15 percent stake in the project, while Britain's Cairn Energy PLC has a 40 percent stake and the state owns the remainder.
Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin