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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Nigeria oil auction sees few bids
Oil rig on Niger Delta
Foreign oil firms in Nigeria have faced security issues
The Nigerian government has auctioned 45 oil exploration licences, but failed to gain bids from big Western firms.

Many were deterred by uncertainty over how the incoming government, which takes office on 29 May, will act.

In their place came bids from small companies with little oil exploration experience. Chinese and Indian firms have already snapped up some top slots.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but attacks by militants have sharply cut production.

Nearly 100 foreign oil workers have been abducted this year in the volatile Niger Delta region and 13 are in captivity.

Many of those kidnapped in the Delta are seized by armed gangs wanting ransom money and are released unharmed once a payment is made.

Calibre

With the new government yet to come into office, there were fears that oil licences could be overturned or the terms and conditions would not be met.

Of 11 deep offshore blocks, only two were bought by a small UK firm, Yorkshire Energy World.

At the same time, international firms that were given priority to make bids declined the chance, leaving oil licences unclaimed.

Of another 11 blocks - on the continental shelf - seven were claimed, proving more popular.

Despite the lack of interest, some had feared it could be worse.

"Everyone was so put off that they didn't get the right calibre of bidders, but the process has been much better than I expected," said Layi Fatona, managing director of Nigerian oil firm Delta Petroleum Resources.


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