* Lithuania calls first shale gas exploration tender
* US agency estimates Lithuania reserves at 113 bln bcm
* Licenses for 2 fields, contracts to be signed Q1 2013
VILNIUS, June 27 (Reuters) - Baltic state Lithuania, aiming to reduce its dependency on Russian gas, is keen to invest in shale gas and has called its first exploration tender, the Energy Ministry said on Wednesday.
“Shale gas could become a realistic and economically competitive alternative to natural gas supplied by Gazprom , now the sole gas supplier,” the ministry said in a statement.
The government plans to issue licenses for exploration in two fields - Silutes-Taurages with 1,800 square km and Kudirkos-Kybartu with 281 square km.
The deadline to table the proposals runs four months from Wednesday, and exploration contracts are expected to be signed in the first quarter of 2013, the ministry added.
Lithuania has become the latest European country to express an interest in shale gas.
Neighbouring Poland has also eyed the development of a shale gas industry, though it faced a setback after U.S. major Exxon Mobil pulled out of exploration projects. Experts also have said Germany has huge reserves that could be safely exploited.
Polish oil group Lotos, which controls top Lithuanian oil company Lotos Geonafta, said in January it planned to take part in a Lithuanian tender.
The State Geological Service estimates that Lithuania’s geological formations hold up to 500 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas, though economically recoverable reserves could be a tenth of that.
A study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration has said Lithuania could have recoverable reserves of 113 bcm. (via Oslo newsroom, writing by Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm and Jane Baird)