|Libya disappoints European firms as U.S. wins most oil exploration permits|
|Indian firms also get go-ahead to drill in North African country
European oil companies, left out in the cold by Libya's handout of oil-exploration permits mainly to U.S. firms at the weekend, said they hoped this would change this year.
"It was a bad start," one European oil executive said after Tripoli allocated 11 of 15 exploration licenses, the first granted to foreigners for 40 years, to U.S. companies.
Indian, Canadian, Algerian, Indonesian and Australian companies took the others - despite a recent trail of European leaders to the North African country, including France's President Jacques Chirac and the British and Italian prime ministers Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi.
European countries which tendered for the permits included the French firms Total and Gaz de France, Spain's Repsol, Italy's Agip and Britain's BP. None succeeded.
"The European offers were much meaner than the American offers," one Libyan source said.
"The main criterion for success is the amount of production that the company pledges to give up to the national company," he said, adding that the Europeans set their figure "too low" compared to the Americans. He gave no details.
One Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said more offers on the table this year from Libya could correct the imbalance.
"Saturday's bad start could be corrected, despite the symbolic side" of U.S. firms taking the lion's share, bringing U.S. companies back in force to Libya after years of repeated political contention between Tripoli and Washington.
Tripoli is expected to give foreign companies a chance to compete for two more sets of contracts. The first is planned in a month, encompassing 40 exploration blocks, while a second batch may go on offer at the end of the third quarter.
A total of 150 firms took part in bidding for rights to hunt for oil in the 15 blocks covering 127,000 square kilometers in Libya, which has Africa's largest oil reserves.
The successful companies have to invest a total of $750 million in oil exploration, with significant spending afterwards to exploit any finds.
Abdullah al-Badri, head of Libya's national oil company, said that "the choice (of successful bidders) was done in total transparency."
Occidental Petroleum Corp. of the United States picked up five licenses and shares rights in four others with the Australian company Woodside Petroleum Ltd.
ChevronTexaco received a license to explore the Marzouk basin south of the capital Tripoli. The U.S. company Amerada Hess also won a license.
Verenex Energy Inc of Canada, Algeria's Sonatrach, and Medco Energy International of Indonesia also won licenses.
Occidental pulled out of Libya in 1986 after the United States imposed sanctions on the country.
Badri attributed the American firm's success in tendering to the fact that "it knows the block because it had already worked" there.
India's state-run Indian Oil Corp. and Oil India Ltd. also won a license to look for oil in Libya, the companies' first joint foray overseas.
The two firms won a bid to explore onshore Block-086 in "the highly prospective Sirte basin," the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) officials as saying. IOC and Oil India forged an alliance last month to look for oil and gas in other countries.
Under the terms of the license, IOC and Oil India will get 18.4 percent of any future production in the block, with the remaining 81.6 percent going to Libya's national oil company, PTI said.
If oil is found in the license area, Libya, which is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, will fund half of the exploration and development costs.
Oil India will be the operator of the block, part of the first offering of concessions by Libya after the lifting of US sanctions, the report said.
Indian officials said the companies will bid for at least two out of the 40 licenses Libya proposes to offer in a second round next month, it added.
Oil India and another Indian state-run company, ONGC Videsh, won exploration rights in Iran's offshore Farsi block in 2002.
Beirut,02 07 2005
The Daily Star