* 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 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
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
This has raised hopes that offshore West Africa may contain
deepwater reserves on a scale comparable to those found offshore
"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
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
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