UPDATE 1-Greece names Total-led consortium preferred bidder for offshore gas drilling

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ATHENS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Greece named on Wednesday a consortium of France’s Total, its biggest oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum and Italy’s Edison as the preferred bidder for an offshore gas drilling block in the west of the country.

Greece, which signed up to a third bailout last summer, has made several fruitless attempts over the last 50 years to find big oil and gas reserves. Its debt crisis and important findings in neighbouring countries has prompted the country to step up those efforts.

Last year, Athens tendered 20 offshore blocks in the Ionian Sea and south of the island of Crete for deep sea oil and gas drilling and unsealed the offers in February.

The Total-led consortium has bid for one block in the Ionian Sea, while Hellenic Petroleum has bid independently for two other blocks.

A committee assessing the bids will invite the consortium to finalise the contract, the country’s energy ministry said in a statement.

Hellenic Petroleum in a venture with Edison, and Energean Oil , the country’s sole oil producer, are already searching for oil in three onshore and offshore blocks in western Greece. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Jon Boyle)