Algeria Awards 7 Exploration Blocks In Hassi Berkine Basin

Algeria awarded seven exploration blocks to foreign oil companies in a package of 10 acreages on offer in an international tender, officials said. The agreements, part of the country's efforts to lure foreign investment to its vast untapped Saharan areas, were granted in the third licensing round since 2001, when the Energy and Mines Ministry enacted a new regulation based on biddings to speed up contract signing. However, three areas, two of which are located in the promising Hassi Berkine basin, failed to attract offers, said Djillali Takherist, exploration director at state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach.

Among the seven blocks awarded by the Energy and Mines ministry, two were grabbed by companies operating for the first time in the North African country's energy industry. One of the firms is Petrovietnam Investment and Development Company which won block 443a-416b located in the Oued Mya area, north of Hassi Berkine. The companies winning exploration rights are RWE DEA and Edison together with Repsol were awarded block 351c-352c in the southwestern region of Reggane. Anadarko in association with Maersk won block 403c/e in the Berkine basin where it is already pumping 285,000 barrels of oil per day with Sonatrach and Gaz de France was granted block 352a-353, a gas acreage located in the Sbaa basin. Medex Petroleum Limited acquired permits to explore two blocks, the 226-229b and the 242 in the Illizi basin. Another consortium composed of TotalfinaElf and Cepsa were granted licenses in block 325a-329 in the Timimoun province, north of the giant In Salah Gas project.

Sonatrach's Exploration and Production Vice-President Djamel Eddine Khene said the winners would invest a minimum of $107 million in seismic surveys and well-drilling programs in the next three years. Officials said Monday's seven deals were the best performance the Algerian had carried out so far in a single operation and represents the total of licenses awarded during all of last year.

Algeria, a member of OPEC, plans to boost its crude output capacity to 1.5 million bpd from the current 1.05 million bpd and double to 40 the number of foreign companies operating in the country.

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