* Tender includes 29 blocks at 1,000-1,600 sq km each
* To run for 7 months, awards in early 2015 at latest
* To include strict environmental standards -official
By Igor Ilic
ZAGREB, April 2 Croatia published an
international tender for oil and gas exploration blocks in the
Adriatic on Wednesday, hoping to attract major oil firms and
start production in five years despite protests from local
The tender will run for seven months, and the government is
expected to award concessions in early 2015 at the latest. New
oil and gas fields should help the European Union's latest
member reduce dependence on energy imports.
"We have been underexplored for the last 20 years,
particularly offshore," Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak told
executives of around 30 oil and gas companies at a conference.
Croatia expects investments worth some $2.5 billion over the
next five years in exploration activities. Local media have
mentioned companies including Exxon, Shell and
Eni's unit Agip as likely participants, but the
government declined to confirm that.
"The fact that we've prepared this project shows that
Croatia can be a reliable partner who can smartly manage its
resources," Vrdoljak said.
The tender envisages 29 block areas for exploration and
future exploitation, eight in the north and 21 in central and
southern Adriatic. The size of one block ranges between 1,000 to
1,600 square kilometres.
Each bidder will be able to compete for an unlimited number
of blocks, Barbara Doric, the head of Croatia's hydrocarbons
agency, which prepared the tender, told Reuters.
GAS NORTH, CRUDE SOUTH
She said that according to the preliminary data, gas
reserves were more likely to be found in the north and crude
deposits were expected in the southern part of Croatia's
Adriatic, where the seabed is deeper.
The exploration concession is envisaged for five years with
a possibility to extend it for one more year, while exploitation
concessions are planned for 25 years.
The economy ministry said it expected a considerable number
of bids from major global energy firms, given the strong
interest from potential investors for the data room with
Local environmental groups say oil drilling would harm the
local fishing industry and tourism.
Marketing its coast as the "Mediterranean as it once was",
Croatia earns 7 billion euros ($9.7 billion) a year from
tourism, more than 17 percent of the total national output.
"We think exploitation of gas and particularly oil could
have a devastating effect on the environment," said Sven
Janovski, an activist of Zelena Akcija (Green Action), which is
pushing for a public debate on the issue.
"It could ruin the landscape, and in the worst case we
could have an oil spill that would quickly spread because the
Adriatic is small and relatively closed. The government never
mentioned whether it plans any precautionary or emergency
measures," he said.
Doric said the government planned to include strict
environmental protection standards in the tender.
Croatia currently covers about 65 percent of its annual gas
consumption of 3 billion cubic metres from its own fields
offshore. It hopes to be able to meet the entire local demand
from the domestic wells following the new exploration efforts.
($1 = 0.7249 Euros)
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and