Oil-rich Guyana opens bids for new offshore blocks as it seeks to boost production

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana has opened bids for 14 offshore oil blocks available for exploration and development as the South American country seeks to ramp up oil production.

Six companies and groups submitted bids for the available blocks late Tuesday after the bidding process was postponed three times to provide more time for those interested to evaluate the blocks’ data.

No one knows what the 14 blocks located miles off Guyana’s coast contain, but ExxonMobil has successfully drilled more than 30 wells near them in waters off a country now considered one of the world’s biggest offshore oil producers. The blocks cover a total area of at least roughly 386 square miles (1,000 square kilometers).

ExxonMobil once again teamed up with its partners in Guyana, U.S.-owned Hess Corp. and China National Offshore Oil Corp., to submit a bid. Meanwhile, French-owned Total Energies partnered with companies in Qatar and Malaysia. Also submitting bids were companies and groups based in the U.S., Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Guyana and London.

“You want to be part of the auction? Please come up. Any government in any part of the world, any company in any part of the world, you are free to be a part of the auction,” President Irfaan Ali told reporters recently as he sought to promote the area and attract big companies capable of working in deep waters.

The government of Guyana said it would start evaluating bids next week and expects to start negotiating with bidders by mid-October. Final decisions could be announced by early November.

Guyana already has seen its economy soar thanks to a massive oil discovery in 2015 that so far has led to the production of nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day. The number is expected to rise to 1 million barrels a day since the ExxonMobil consortium has applied for approval to explore four more blocks.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Guyana’s coastal area has roughly 13.6 billion barrels of oil reserves and gas reserves of 32 trillion cubic feet.