Guatemala May Open Bidding for Oil, Gas Areas in June

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"Our goal is self-sufficiency."

Guatemala's bidding process for 12 oil and natural-gas blocks may begin in June, which could result in the Central American nation becoming self-sufficient in oil and fuels in as little as seven years.

The government expects to complete the leases by the end of June, with an auction and final contract signing completed by early 2010, said Cesar Augusto Corado Elias, director general of hydrocarbons at the nation's Mines and Energy Ministry, after a presentation in Rio de Janeiro.

Leasing of nine onshore and three offshore blocks may raise output seven-fold to 100,000 barrels a day, Corado said today. The bids may attract as much as $235 million of exploration investments, most of it to search for gas off Guatemala's Pacific coast, he said.

"If all goes as planned we may have new exploration activities as early as next year and new output soon after," Corado said. "Our goal is self-sufficiency."

Guatemala produces about 14,000 barrels of oil a day, most of which is exported or used to asphalt local roads.

The leases will be for 25 years and require at least six years of exploration, Corado said.

The offshore blocks, expected to attract $150 million of investment, have shown signs that methane, the main natural gas, may be present, Corado said. Gas, if found in sufficient quantities, would be used to supply local markets by pipeline. Foreign markets would be served by liquefying the gas and exporting it by ship, he said.

Several of the onshore blocks have had drilling activity or are located near operating fields in Belize and Mexico, Corado said. The country has both low-value heavy oil and higher value light crude.

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