* Awards to five firms, including three from Nigeria
* CNPC currently only foreign producer in Niger
* Govt seeks to diversify stakeholders in oil sector
NIAMEY/GENEVA, July 16 (Reuters) - Niger has awarded nine production sharing agreements to five oil firms as one of Africa’s newest oil producers seeks to diversify its foreign partners, a government statement said.
China National Petroleum Corporation is Niger’s dominant international partner and helped the country begin pumping oil last November as part of a $5 billion deal to develop the Agadem block in the West African nation’s east.
State-owned CNPC is also looking for oil in the northern block of Bilma and co-owns the 20,000 barrel per day (bpd) Soraz refinery with the government.
“The adoption of these decrees has been reached in the new climate favourable to investment in Niger and is in line with the policy of diversifying oil partners,” according to a government statement on public television.
Among the five companies awarded contracts were three from neighbouring Nigeria: Labana Petroleum with two blocks (Dibella 1, Dallol), Sirius Energy with one bloc (Grein) and Advantica Gas and Energy with one bloc (Mandaram 2), according to a local newspaper.
Australian-listed International Petroleum Ltd was awarded four blocks (Manga 1, Manga 2, Aborak and West Tenere) and Bermuda-based Genmin was awarded one bloc (Djado 1), it said.
Details were confirmed by a source familiar with the contracts.
It was not clear how many firms bid for the contracts.
Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, is expected to begin operating reserves on four fields at its Agadem bloc by early 2014, increasing its production to 80,000 bpd.
The government forecasts that its petroleum sector will provide the country with $164 million in revenue this year and eliminate the need for costly fuel imports.
Around 60,000 bpd will be exported via a pipeline linking into the landlocked country to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, allowing it to export its crude onto the international spot market from a terminal in the Gulf of Guinea.
Besides CNPC, Algeria’s Sonatrach is also searching for crude oil in the north of Chad while Canada’s TG World also has a stake in an exploration project.
Niger is already an exporter of uranium. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaatchi in Niamey and Emma Farge in Geneva; editing by James Jukwey)