nel applies to explore for oil and gas in Greece -ministry

ATHENS, April 22 Tue Apr 22, 2014 10:52am EDT

ATHENS, April 22 (Reuters) - Italy's Enel has sought permission to explore for oil and gas in Greece, the Greek government said on Tuesday.

Enel has expressed interest in three onshore areas in the western part of the country, Greece's energy ministry said, adding it would duly decide on the Italian company's application.

If permission is granted, Athens will give other oil firms at least 90 days time to submit rival offers for the same areas.

Back in 2001, oil companies including Hungary's MOL and Greece's Hellenic Petroleum searched in vain for oil in two of the blocs Enel is currently considering.

"Enel Group's decision ... is a vote of confidence in our great national effort to exploit our mineral wealth," Energy Minister Yannis Maniatis said in a statement.

Encouraged by big gas finds in offshore areas of Cyprus and Israel that are relatively nearby, cash-strapped Greece has been wooing oil companies to explore and develop its own hydrocarbon potential.

Athens imports almost all its oil and natural gas and spent 15.6 billion euros ($21.5 billion) on fuel imports last year, about 8.6 percent of its gross domestic product.

Greece is separately about to sign exploration concessions for two other western areas with Energean Oil & Gas, the country's only oil producer in which U.S. hedge fund Third Point LLC holds a 44.5 percent stake.

Athens also plans to invite international investors later this year to conduct offshore test drills in its western and southern waters following the completion of seismic tests there.

($1 = 0.7244 Euros) (Reporting by Harry Papachristou; editing by Jane Baird)