Liberia marks out new oil blocks, auction seen soon
MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia has marked out 13 new, ultra-deep offshore oil blocks and will soon auction about half of them off to international oil firms, the head of the West African nation's oil company told Reuters on Wednesday.
Christopher Z. Neyor, president of Liberia's National Oil Co, said the country did not yet have any proven reserves but Anadarko, Chevron and African Petroleum Corp would all be drilling there this year.
Liberia is slowly recovering from years of civil war and is due to hold its second post-conflict election later this year. But international mining and oil firms are already jostling for access to vast iron ore and potential oil reserves.
The West African nation has already marked out 17 oil blocks, 10 of which have already been snapped up.
"There are now 13 new ones that have been delineated," Neyor told Reuters in an interview, adding that they were in ultra-deep water and half would be auctioned soon.
"We have received lot of expressed interest from international companies for those blocks," he added, refusing to give any names of firms.
Anadarko, Chevron and African Petroleum Corp have so far led the field in Liberia, a nation previously better known for a conflict fuelled partly by the scrap over diamonds.
Neyor said two- and three-dimensional data on the existing oil blocks had been encouraging so far.
"Each of (the companies) will be drilling one well this year ... We have all of the right formation for oil in our basin. It has shown that we have very good signs for oil discovery."
Nearby Ghana's discovery of oil in 2007 and subsequent production start-up late last year has spurred deeper interest in off-shore oil exploration along the coast of West Africa.
Sierra Leone, another nation still trying to shake off the effects of years of war, has also struck oil. Russia's second largest oil producer, LUKOIL said on Wednesday it bought a 49 percent stake in an block.
"All of these signs, we have seen similarities with those seen in our region -- like the Jubilee (field) in Ghana and the Mercury discovery in Sierra Leone," Neyor said.
GREATER LOCAL SHARE
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank official, has been praised for stabilising her country since coming to power after a 2005 election.
But she is under pressure to ensure the investments deliver greater change at the grass roots, and oil is likely to test her ability for ensure it provides jobs and development rather than fuel corruption and stoke conflicts like it has elsewhere.
Neyor said that some blocks would be reserved for Liberian firms while the country would also be stricter about enforcing the petroleum law, which he said guarantees the state a 20 percent share and citizens a 10 percent share.
"Unfortunately, all of that has not been the case. But hereafter, we will make it a requirement that Liberian citizens participate at least 10 percent in each of the oil blocks."
International firms operating in Liberia frequently complain that the war has left the country's education system -- from primary schools through to universities -- in tatters.
But Neyor said Liberia was being helped by experts from the United States and Norway and locals were being readied for jobs throughout the petroleum industry.
"Now, we are probably not (ready for oil), but we have enough time," he said. "We are training people for that industry. We are building the capacities. We have hydrocarbon fund to which all of the oil companies contribute to."
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