ATHENS, July 2 (Reuters) - Greece has received eight bids by companies to search for oil and natural gas in three blocks in the western part of the country, the energy ministry said on Monday, as debt-laden Athens seeks to save money on energy imports.
Greece, which produces almost no oil or natural gas, aims to develop potential hydrocarbon reserves as part of an effort to overhaul its economy and lessen dependence on energy imports.
"It is important that Greece returns to the energy map again," Energy Minister Evangelos Livieratos said in a statement. "Our country can attract new investment, create new jobs and boost its geo-strategic position and competitiveness to exit the crisis."
Eleven companies, some in alliance with each other, submitted a total of eight bids.
They included UK-based Chariot Oil and Gas, Schlumberger, the world's biggest oil service company, Arctic Hunter, Hellenic Petroleum, Edison International and Melrose Resources. The latter three teamed up to bid for two of the three projects, the ministry said in a statement.
The three blocks combined, two off-shore and one onshore, may contain as much as 280 million barrels of oil, Greek officials said last year. They are near the towns of Patras and Katakolo as well as in Epirus, in the country's northwest.
Almost 200 fruitless test wells have been bored in various parts of Greece in the past century, the most recent about 12 years ago. But most of the tests were badly managed or carried out at the wrong locations, Greek officials said.
Cash-strapped Athens spends 10 billion to 12 billion euros per year on oil imports, about 5 percent of its gross domestic product. Territorial disputes with neighbouring Turkey prevent Athens from looking for oil in the country's east.
Greece now plans to enter negotiations on royalty and taxes with the winning applicants. According to the tender documents, Athens hopes to receive royalties of 2 to 20 percent of the hydrocarbons produced, in kind or in cash. It also wants to impose a 25 percent income tax on the winner.
"If we keep a tight schedule, seismic tests could begin in September," Assimakis Papageorgiou, deputy energy minister, told a conference before the bids were unveiled.