* Beats eight other bidders for key block
* Offshore bidding round eyed next year
By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Tanzania has awarded oil and gas exploration rights for the northern side of Lake Tanganyika to a subsidiary of French energy company Total SA , its state-run petroleum agency said on Tuesday.
The Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) said in a statement on its website Total E&P Activites Petrolieres beat eight other bids from Australian, Canadian, British and American companies for the Lake Tanganyika North Area block.
"Total E&P Activites Petrolieres has shown to be able to comply with the minimum work commitment and has superior technical as well as a financial capability over the other bidders to undertake exploration in the Lake Tanganyika north area," TPDC said.
Interest in East Africa as a new hydrocarbon region has been heating up in recent years after major discoveries of oil in Uganda and natural gas in Tanzania and Mozambique.
Lake Tanganyika is shared between Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Zambia.
TPDC has divided the Tanzanian side of Lake Tanganyika into two blocks, with the southern portion awarded to Australia's Beach Energy in 2008.
Beach Energy was among the unsuccessful bidders for the northern block. Oil majors Aminex Plc , Ophir Energy and U.S. independent ERHC Energy had also submitted bids for the oil and gas exploration rights in the Lake Tanganyika north area.
Despite having natural gas deposits, Tanzania is yet to strike oil.
Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras expects to start exploration in September for oil and gas off the coast of Tanzania, which is known to have significant gas deposits.
Tanzania postponed its fourth deep offshore bidding round to next year to allow it to offer new blocks discovered by a latest seismic survey.
The bidding round, which was initially scheduled for April, was expected to invite bids for 13 deep offshore blocks located around 1,200 and 3,000 metres below sea.
Among the 17 firms that hold exploration blocks in Tanzania are France's Maurel & Prom , Norway's Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell and Ras al-Khaimah Gas Commission of the United Arab Emirates. (Editing by George Obulutsa)