Myanmar opens keenly awaited oil and gas auction

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar on Wednesday launched an auction of 30 offshore oil and gas exploration blocks expected to draw fierce competition from foreign giants hoping for a share of an energy bonanza.

Successful bidders will be granted full rights to up to three of 19 deepwater blocks on offer, the energy ministry said on its website - a first for a sector once closely controlled by the corrupt former junta.

Firms have previously been required to partner with state oil companies for onshore blocks, but due to the high cost and technical skills required, bidders must take full control for deepwater exploration.

Bidders will, however, be required to enter into a production sharing contract with the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), it said without providing further details.

"Offshore is not like onshore blocks," a MOGE official told AFP. "A deep water block requires a lot of money, advanced technical skills and involves a high level of risk."

For the 11 shallow water blocks on offer, bidders must still cooperate with a Myanmar state-owned company.

Companies must submit their expressions of interest by June 14 after which potential bidders will be selected.

Last month, Mr Aung Kyaw Htoo, assistant director of the energy ministry, told AFP that oil majors such as BP, Woodside, Shell and Chevron were interested in bidding.

Myanmar's oil and gas industry, which analysts say accounts for some 34 per cent of the country's total exports, is seen as an engine of growth as the nation emerges from decades of authoritarian army rule.

In January, Myanmar opened up 18 onshore blocks for bids, aiming to attract a raft of Western firms eager to enter the energy sector after the end of sanctions against the once-pariah state.

MOGE has come under fire in the past from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi among others for lacking transparency, and the government has pledged openness in an effort to reassure investors over corruption concerns.

A dozen foreign companies are currently partnered with local firms in 27 existing offshore blocks, according to the ministry website, including French giant Total and US giant Chevron who entered before sanctions were imposed.