May 14, 2014 / 6:05 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-Gabon drops three firms from offshore oil licensing deal

* Noble, Cobalt, Elenilto named as among winners last year

* Total invited to join offshore negotiations (Adds details)

LIBREVILLE, May 14 (Reuters) - Three companies previously named as among the winners in an offshore oil licensing round in Gabon have been dropped from the list, the country’s oil minister said on Wednesday.

“The offshore requires huge investment and the companies turned down did not meet those requirements,” oil minister Etienne Ngoubou told reporters. The three were Noble Energy Inc , Cobalt International Energy Inc and a company called Elenilto.

Gabon awarded 13 oil and gas blocks to 11 companies in October 2013 as part of a major deepwater licensing round, which the central African country hopes will double its output to 500,000 barrels per day.

In a decision which surprised some industry participants at the time, existing producers Total and Royal Dutch Shell did not appear on the list.

Ngoubou said Total had been invited for negotiations, without giving any details. “Total has been called in for discussions with the body in charge of negotiations,” he said.

The other companies awarded blocks in October were Ophir Energy, Eni, ExxonMobil, Marathon , Perenco, Repsol, Petronas and Impact.

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.

Some geologists think offshore west Africa may contain deepwater reserves beneath a layer of salt on the ocean bed comparable to those found offshore Brazil. (Reporting by Jean Rovys Dabany; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by David Evans and David Holmes)

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