Myanmar invites bids for 18 onshore oil blocks
YANGON Jan 18 (Reuters) - Myanmar's Ministry of Energy has invited sealed bids for oil exploration licences at 18 onshore blocks in various parts of the country, state media and officials said on Friday, in a step designed to draw investment into the poverty-stricken nation.
The move follows Myanmar's largest oil and gas offering in 2011, when foreign firms snapped up 9 of the 18 onshore blocks, although plans for a second tender were delayed last September to ensure it met global transparency standards.
Interested companies can bid for up to three blocks after entering a compulsory partnership with at least one registered domestic oil company of their choice, a senior Energy Ministry official told Reuters.
"Operations will be carried out under Production Sharing Contracts at 15 blocks and under Improved Petroleum Recovery Contracts at the remaining three blocks," he said.
Expressions of interest have to be made in the two months from Jan. 17. The ministry will provide a list of registered Myanmar-owned companies to the interested foreign companies, according to the announcement.
"It's the second round of bidding for onshore blocks since mid-2011. There was no bidding last year since the ministry was busy improving transparency in the sector and handling on-going projects," the official said, asking not to be identified as he was speaking to the media without authorisation.
Some top U.S. oil companies have already opened offices in Myanmar but it was unclear if they would bid for the onshore blocks, he said.
There were 22 foreign companies from nine countries currently exploring for oil in 18 blocks and for gas in 5 blocks of the country's 28 onshore oil and gas blocks, he added.
Asian firms, especially from China, Thailand and India, have dominated foreign investment in Myanmar's oil and gas sector, though Chevron and Total also operate there.
Official data shows that Myanmar exported $3.5 billion worth of gas, mainly to neighbouring Thailand, in the fiscal year to March 2012, compared with $2.5 billion a year ago and $2.4 billion in 2008-2009.
Arrangements are under way to start sales of gas from blocks off Rakhine State to China through an 840-mile pipeline around the middle of this year.
Myanmar, a country of 60 million people that is the size of England and France combined, is believed to be rich in natural gas reserves, which government officials estimate to range between 11 trillion and 23 trillion cubic feet.
It produces around 19,600 barrels of crude oil and 1.475 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day.