Sudan, now prizing Asia as its best oil market, plans to open its north and central regions to prospection by foreign firms before the year ends, a top energy ministry official said Tuesday.
The government is preparing to offer concessions for the central Blue Nile basin south of Khartoum and a vast northern area near Chad, the ministry's undersecretary general Hassan Mohammed Ali al-Taum told AFP.
"I think by the end of the year (the tenders) will be ready," Taum told AFP from his office at the ministry of energy and mining opposite a stretch of the Blue Nile in the capital.
The government has already mapped out the parcels, drawing feelers from firms from Japan, Europe and the Middle East, he said, expecting more interest from Asian and other companies once the bids are announced.
He declined to identify the firms.
So far an initial survey of the northern and central areas has been conducted and more geological data is being prepared, Taum said.
"Early indications are that the (underground geological) structures are suitable for the formation of oil," the official said, adding it was premature to say if there was actually oil there.
International firms would also have to determine whether the oil was economic to extract, both in general terms and in connection with the trend in oil prices, he added.
"It's like gambling," he said, explaining the nature of the oil industry.
The first exports were launched in August last year, via a pipeline from the southern oil fields in Higlieg -- drilled by a consortium of Sudanese, Chinese, Malaysian and Canadian firms -- to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In the eight or nine months of exports, Sudan has been testing the international oil market, particularly the Mediterranean countries and the Far East, up to Korea and Japan, he said.
"We discovered the best market for us is the Far East," Taum said.
Export capacity is now at around 200,000 barrels per day, which still puts Sudan far behind such OPEC countries as Nigeria and Libya, and even smaller exporters like Egypt, he said.
Sudan has an estimated three billion barrels of reserves, but 700 million barrels of proven, recoverable reserves, Taum said -- KHARTOUM (AFP).
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)