* Plans to offer onshore Cuvette Basin blocks
* Seeking partners for abandoned shallow water blocks
* Sees LNG exports from Litchendjili beginning 2016/2017
By Joe Bavier
ABIDJAN, Nov 8 Congo Republic plans to award around 10 onshore and offshore oil blocks by early next year in a new licensing round, the deputy head of state-owned energy company Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo (SNPC) said.
A series of discoveries has kindled interest in the region, which includes Africa's number 2 oil producer Angola, amid hopes it could hold reserves comparable to the billions of barrels in fields off Brazil.
Congo's oil production was thought to have peaked at over 310,000 barrels per day in 2010 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While output has since dipped by around 20,000 bpd, fresh exploration could revive output.
"It will be around 10 blocks offshore and onshore," Alfred Charles Sockath, who heads SNPC's upstream operations, told Reuters at a gas conference in Ivory Coast late on Thursday.
"There's the Cuvette Basin ...three blocks have already been attributed there and around another seven blocks remain," he said.
Eni, the biggest foreign oil company in Africa by volume, said in September that it was on the verge of starting survey work on its 16,000 square-kilometre Ngolo block in the Cuvette Basin.
Eni has a longstanding presence in Republic of Congo, which in 2012 accounted for some 6 percent of the Italian oil and gas company's annual production of around 1.7 million barrels per day.
Eni, which is looking to expand its operations in sub-Saharan Africa, announced in August that it had made an important oil and gas discovery in Congo.
Sockath said the upcoming offshore offerings would include several shallow water blocks abandoned by major oil companies.
"There are blocks that were abandoned by Total. Others by Eni. Several operators. But that doesn't mean that all the exploration has been done," he said, but declined to give further details.
Sockath said Congo was moving forward with plans to develop the Eni-operated Litchendjili offshore gas field, with a part of output destined for domestic electricity production and the remainder set for a new LNG project.
"The gas field will enter production between 2015 and 2017," he said.
"There's an LNG project using barges. It's not a big plant but a barge. That's planned for 2016 or 2017. Under the project we've identified probable buyers in Asia, but I can't give you the names," he said.