UPDATE 2-Gabon awards oil blocks; says can double production
* Oil minister aims for production of 500,000 bpd
* Ophir Energy, Exxon, Eni and Repsol among winners
* Established producers Total, Shell empty handed
By Jean Rovys Dabany
LIBREVILLE, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Gabon has awarded 13 oil and gas blocks to 11 companies as part of a major deepwater licensing round, which the Central African country hopes will double its output to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), the oil minister said.
The bidding round, which has been delayed for three years, offers a chance for the former OPEC member to reverse a decline in production from a peak of about 370,000 bpd in the 1990s.
Investors have shown fresh interest in Gabon's coastline after oil major Total reported a gas condensate discovery buried deep in a layer of the ocean bed referred to as pre-salt.
This has raised hopes that offshore West Africa may contain deepwater reserves on a scale comparable to those found offshore Brazil.
"The government is aiming for 500,000 barrels a day of production once these blocks are operational," Oil Minister Etienne Ngoubou told reporters on Tuesday.
He did not give a figure for current production, although the government earlier this month gave a production forecast of nearly 230,000 bpd for 2014.
Companies had applied for licences for 18 blocks from a total of 43 available.
British oil and gas explorer Ophir Energy was the biggest winner of the licensing round with four blocks. Exxon Mobil, Eni, Repsol and Marathon were also successful.
Royal Dutch Shell and Total, both significant producers in the former French colony, participated in the round but came away empty-handed.
Canadian Natural Resources, which already has an oil asset in Gabon, and Swiss commodities giant Glencore also participated in the round but were not awarded blocks.
It was not clear whether Sinopec's Addax Petroleum, currently locked in a $1 billion legal battle with the Gabonese government over an oilfield, had applied for fresh allocations.
Gabon's government has sought a greater role in the oil sector, including setting up a national oil company in 2011, and has said it would seek a stake in oil blocks owned by foreign firms.
The minister did not give details on the legal terms of the new contracts, adding that "negotiations will continue shortly with the selected companies".
Other companies named as winners in the latest licensing round were Noble, Perenco, Petronas, Cobalt, Elenilto and Impact.
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