Six Oil Firms to Scout for Oil Offshore Guinea

São Tomé and Principe's national petroleum agency has announced that six oil companies have taken up offers to prospect for oil off the Gulf of Guinea archipelago.

"The National Petroleum Agency has the pleasure of announcing that within the framework of the first tender concerning the exclusive economic zone which closed Nov. 15, [six companies] have presented proposals," said a statement dated Monday.

The offers concern seven of the 19 oil blocs in Sao Tome's EEZ.

The list of firms given by Sao Tome authorities, which doesn't include their nationalities, is Afex Global, Force Petroleum, Grupo Gema SA, O.G. Engineering SA, Oranto Petroleum and Overt Energy.

The communique said further details and the specific proposals of the companies would be released later.

On March 2, the authorities simultaneously launched in London and in the archipelago their first tenders for companies to prospect for and exploit oil in São Tomé's waters. The offer was due to close on Sept. 15, but then extended for two months.

In March, then prime minister Rafael Branco warned the country would take some time before it could expect to benefit from oil revenue from the blocs put out to tender, estimating that "in the best case scenario" the money would begin to come in "only within the next eight years."

The closure of the tender was announced as São Tomé and Principe is hosting, from Nov. 22-25, the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Africa Oil and Gas, Finance, Trade and Finance Conference and Exhibition.

Sao Tome and Principe, a former Portuguese colony whose limited budget is augmented by international financial assistance, is one of the few countries in the Gulf of Guinea not yet to have exploited its potential oil wealth. Test drillings carried out in 2003 and 2007 in an offshore bloc bordering on Nigeria didn't come up with the hoped-for results. Sao Tome was hoping to be producing oil by 2011, but economic and diplomatic sources now estimate its first barrels of crude can be envisaged by 2014.

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