* Greece plans to cut tax for oil/gas firms to 25 pct from 40 pct
* Wants them to help exploit offshore hydrocarbon resources
* Announces tender of first oil exploration licences
LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) - Greece is planning to cut tax rates for oil and gas companies as it wants to attract them to help exploit its untapped offshore hydrocarbon resources, its energy minister said on Tuesday.
Under the plan, oil and gas explorers will pay 25 percent tax, down from 40 percent currently, and 5 percent of the tax will go to local communities.
“We have done this in order to incentivise our investors to invest in the future of Greece,” Ioannis Maniatis, Greece’s Energy Minister, said at a conference in London. He did not say when the new tax rates would come into effect.
Debt-laden Greece, which spent 15.6 billion euros ($21.2 billion) to import fuel last year, or about 8.6 percent of its gross domestic product, has launched an ambitious programme to discover big hydrocarbon reserves. It has been inspired by large gas finds offshore from nearby Israel and Cyprus.
Maniatis also announced the tender of Greece’s first large-scale oil and gas exploration licenses after several fruitless attempts over the past decades to make big oil discoveries.
A group of Greek government oil and gas experts was meeting representatives from BP, Shell, Total and ExxonMobil and other oil companies in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, a Greek government source said.
Once the tender is officially published in the coming weeks, oil and gas producers will be able to bid for licences covering 20 blocks located south of Crete and in the Ionian Sea.
“We will evaluate all the available data regarding the 20 offshore blocks which will be included in Greece’s new concession round,” said Mathios Rigas, chief executive of Energean Oil & Gas, currently Greece’s sole oil producer. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Susan Fenton)