* Gabon plans to launch offshore exploration round in June
* New licensing regulations to be enacted, minister says
* Gabon now pumps around 225,000 bpd, sees slight rise
By Shadia Nasralla
LONDON, Nov 29 Gabon plans to launch a new deep offshore oil licensing round in June, providing new investor-friendly regulations can be enacted by then, the West African country's oil and energy minister said on Thursday.
Etienne Ngoubou told Reuters in an interview that Gabon had been pumping at least 225,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil this year and expected to increase output slightly to around 230,000 bpd next year and in 2014.
"We postponed the tender of new deep offshore (areas) because we would like to have new regulations first," Ngoubou said on the sidelines of a conference in London.
"I hope to get the new regulations by June next year. And in June next year, we launch the tender for the deep offshore licence," Ngoubou said.
Gabon has the seventh biggest oil reserves in Africa, BP data show, and the country expects to build on this.
"We have had average daily production of 225,000 bpd (this year)," Ngoubou said. "For 2013 and 2014 we will be able to maintain 230,000 bpd."
Crude oil exports would be around 12 million tonnes per year this year: "That will be approximately the same next year and for 2014 also," the minister said.
Several foreign oil companies are already operating in Gabon, including Total.
Royal Dutch Shell agreed in July a joint venture with two Chinese state-run companies including CNOOC to explore for oil in the country.
SET IN STONE
"We already have three companies which plan to develop some exploration activity next year in three areas. It's Shell, Total and (independent producer) Perenco," he said.
"It's already set (in stone). In fact, three exploration wells will be drilled next year in Gabon."
The new rules governing oil and gas concessions would aim to attract foreign investors and to support sustainable development around the country's oil and gas fields, he said.
The minister said Gabon wished to include local content in its key industries, particularly for non-specialist areas.
"With low skill, low technology, we hope to get mainly local people in this area of competency," he said.
Ngoubou said the Gabon National Oil Company would have an interest in newly licensed areas, adding it would act like a private company and would not get any preferential treatment from the government.
The percentage the national oil company could hold in the newly licensed fields would depend on its financial capacity but would usually be up to 20 percent.
"Approximately it's between 10 and 20 percent on (a) commercial basis," he said.
Gabon in 2010 delayed and then cancelled licensing rounds announced for ultra-deep offshore blocks, citing rising drilling costs and environmental concerns after BP's massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.