January 2, 2011 / 12:12 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Iraq plans 4th bidding round for gas contracts

* New bidding round for gas exploration blocs

* Current oil output more than 2.7 million bpd

* Iraq expects to export more than 2 million bpd in Jan (Adds export details)

By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Iraq is considering holding a fourth bidding round for international energy firms interested in gas exploration contracts, government officials said on Sunday.

Iraq will initially offer 12 exploration blocs, Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told reporters.

He did not give further details, but Abdul-Mahdy al-Ameedi, head of the ministry’s licensing and contracting office, told Reuters it will be only for gas blocs as Iraq does not need to auction more oilfields following two oil bidding rounds in 2009.

“The fourth bidding round which Iraq is preparing for will be for the exploration of gas blocs,” Ameedi said.

Baghdad signed a series of deals with global oil firms to develop some of its largest oilfields and boost its crude output potential to 12 million bpd in six to seven years.

Current oil production is more than 2.7 million barrels per day, Luaibi said, the first time it has reached that level in 20 years.

“This was achieved through Iraq’s national effort and the work of the international oil companies,” Luaibi said.

OPEC member Iraq sits on the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves but has struggled to push output close to the 3 million barrels per day it produced in the late 1980s, before it invaded Kuwait.

Oil exports in December rose to 1.951 million bpd, from 1.912 million bpd in November, the oil minister said, adding he expected exports for January to exceed 2 million bpd due to surplus of crude at storage from last month.

Iraq exported an average of 1.529 million bpd from the southern oil hub of Basra and 422,000 bpd from the northern oilfields around Kirkuk, including 10,000 bpd shipped by trucks to Jordan, the head of the State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) Falah Alamri told Reuters.

The average selling price was about $86 per barrel, he said.

Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Erica Billingham

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