Gabon postpones offshore drilling block auction

OIL-RICH GABON has decided to postpone indefinitely an auction of offshore drilling blocks planned for the end of October pending security and environmental guarantees, officials have said.

A spokesman for Mining, Oil and Hydrocarbons Minister Nkoghe Bekale linked the delay to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion aboard a drilling rig.

"The government wants to adopt a new approach rather than just launch into this operation," spokesman Guy Martial Mbeang Mba told AFP.

"It wants to be assured of certain guarantees, notably with regard to security, the environment and the opportunities for operators," he said.

No new date had been fixed for the sale of the 42 blocks, which had originally been scheduled for March and was put off until October 27, Mba said.

Mba said a code for the oil industry was being drawn up which would lay down a number of rules that firms currently operating in Gabon and those hoping to do so would have to obey.

Libreville was taking into account "a number of international factors after what happened in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "No one is immune from that sort of accident... which means that we are taking the time to prepare things in the best way."

Oil is Gabon's main source of wealth, producing between 220,000 and 240,000 bpd. Officially, oil accounts from about 60 per cent of the country's budget.

According to the World Bank, Gabon's oil production in 2009 was 12.6 mn tonnes, more than 60 per cent by France's Total and British-Dutch group Shell.

Total said it plans to invest nearly two billion dollars in its installations in Gabon's oilfields and secure access to new resources.

Mba said a number of companies had shown interest in the new blocks.

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