* State energy firm now sees auction in January
* Cites global economic environment as main cause of delay
* Says Russia’s Gazprom interested in investing in Peru
LIMA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Peru’s state energy firm has postponed the auction of at least 10 resource-rich energy lots in the Amazon jungle until next year, the president of the agency said on Wednesday.
The delay is the third time the auction, first set for July, has been pushed back because of the economic downturn, which has hit oil prices and forced most global energy companies to cut back.
Peru is working to become energy self-sufficient and hopes to use the country’s vast, and largely untapped wealth of natural resources to spur economic growth.
“The launch of the auction of the lots could happen in January. There’s still no exact date,” Perupetro President Daniel Saba told Reuters.
“The principle motive behind the delay was that we’ve been monitoring the international macroeconomic environment,” he said.
The global recession has battered demand in the United States and other big consumer nations, pushing U.S. crude oil CLc1 prices off record highs near $150 a barrel in July 2008 to below $33 a barrel in December.
Prices have since rebounded on signs of an economic turnaround.
Saba said “at least 40 companies” have expressed an interest in the auction, including Russia’s state-run Gazprom (GAZP.MM).
A Gazprom official declined to confirm whether the company, which is expanding internationally in a push to become a dominant global energy market player, is interested in the Peruvian sale.
The plan to open vast swatch of the Amazon jungle has drawn fierce criticism from environmental and human rights groups, which say energy operations threaten to damage the environment and risk exposing remote tribes to new and deadly diseases.
The auction would be Peru’s first since last year, when several top government officials were forced to step down after being accused of steering concessions to favored bidders. (Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Patricia Velez; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Christian Wiessner)