Ethiopia Expects Seven Offers for Former Petronas Oil Blocks

May 18, 2011

“We shortlisted the companies and they have taken bid documents,” Ketsela said. “After evaluation, the results will be disclosed. We hope to finish in two or three weeks.”

Petronas, based in Kuala Lumpur, sold the assets in October as part of what it said was a “rationalization exercise.” In May 2010, British geologist Jason Read, who was working for a subcontractor of the Malaysian company, was killed in an ambush in the region. The rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front, which has been fighting for self-determination in the area since 1984, denied responsibility for the attack.

In April 2007, the ONLF attacked an exploration site in the Ogaden operated by China’s Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopians.

Talks with Petronas about its exit were “amicable” and the state-owned company’s decision to leave Ethiopia had nothing to do with security concerns, Ketsela said.
‘No Problems’

“Companies are currently working in the area with no problems,” he said. “There is a good relationship between them and the local people.”

On May 13, a World Food Programme worker was shot dead in the Ogaden region in an attack the government blamed on the ONLF. One person was injured and two workers are still missing after the attack, Judith Schuler, WFP’s spokeswoman in Ethiopia, said by phone from the capital yesterday.

The ONLF said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that government security forces carried out the attack to cover up atrocities in the region.

“This is a government that has enshrined basic human rights in the constitution and has been working tirelessly to implement them in every part of the country,” Communications Minister Bereket Simon said by phone from Addis Ababa today. “So I don’t think these accusations from terrorists hold water.”

Companies currently prospecting for fossil fuels in Africa’s second-most populous nation include Afar Exploration Co., based in Oklahoma; Ontario-based Epsilon Energy Ltd.; Calgary-based Calvalley Petroleums Inc. (CVI/A); Denver-based Falcon Oil & Gas Ltd. (FOLGF); Texas-based Pexco Inc.; SouthWest Energy (H.K.) Ltd.; Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corp. (AOI); and London-registered Tullow Oil Inc., Ketsela said. Some of those companies are likely to submit bids for the former Petronas blocks, he said.

Hong Kong-based SouthWest had announced on Oct. 6 it had taken over the concessions before the government approved the deal. The tender is still “open” for the company, Ketsela said.