CAPE TOWN Nov 4 Over 10,000 sq km with "high petroleum potential" has been relinquished in Uganda and will soon be available for relicencing along with unlicenced areas in a competitive bidding process, an Africa oil conference heard on Friday.
The discovery of commercially viable oil reserves in land-locked Uganda which are estimated to amount to 2.5 billion barrels has been a game-changer for the east African region and sparked a fresh hydrocarbon scramble on the world's poorest continent.
Bernard Ongodia, the chief geophysicist for the country's petroleum and exploration department, did not say who had relinquished the licences in a presentation to the Africa Upstream conference organised by Global Pacific & Partners.
But he said the expected passage soon of a Resource Management Law would lay the framework for a comptetitive bidding process in the country's hydrocarbon sector.
He also said that a "feasilbilty study for in country refining has neen concluded and planning for refinery development is on-going."
President Yoweri Museveni said in October the country aimed to start refining its crude products in 2014.
Ongodia told the conference the target was to have the refinery start output at 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) and eventually reach 60,000. He said the government was currently looking for advisors to help with the development of the plan.
Many oil-rich African countries refine little of their own product.
Ongodia also said the final draft of the country's Petroleum Resource Bill will be presented to cabinet and parliament for approval by December.
He said a study that looked at opportunities for Ugandans to participate in the oil sector had been finalised but he gave no further details.
He also said the government was undertaking a "strategic environmental assessment" of exploration and hydrocarbon activities.
Firms involved in the nascent oil sector include London-listed Tullow Oil , Heritage Oil , French oil company Total and Chinese oil group CNOOC .
Last month, Uganda's parliament passed a resolution urging government to withhold consent to Tullow Oil's proposed partnership with Total and CNOOC.
That deal, in which Tullow is selling stakes in its Ugandan exploration properties to the two companies for $2.9 billion, is expected to unlock a $10 billion investment that will see the country's oil sector advance into production phase.