Gabon’s oil ministry said on Monday it had selected seven firms for a final stage of negotiations as part of an offshore licensing round the government hopes will reverse a chronic decline in output.
The new blocks are located in deep offshore waters — an exploration play that is expensive and uncertain but potentially very rewarding given the similarity of geological structures to oil-rich Brazil, where billions of barrels of oil have been discovered.
Former Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries member Gabon produces about 230,000 barrels a day, down from a peak of close to 400,000 barrels a day in the 1990s.
An oil ministry statement said Impact Oil & Gas, Repsol, Perenco, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Petronas and Ophir were ranked highest after bidding for a total of nine blocks.
"These companies listed are invited to finalise negotiations for the signature of the relevant CEPPs (exploration and production sharing contracts) as soon as possible," according to a statement signed by Oil and Hydrocarbons Minister Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou.
The statement showed that other companies such as Cobalt, Noble, Royal Dutch Shell and Total had been ranked in second or third place for the blocks.
The ministry said it had the right to open negotiations with the lower-ranking firms if talks with the first-choice companies were unsuccessful.
Bids for another eight blocks offered during the licensing round "did not reach the expectations of the Gabonese Republic", the statement added.