Tripoli: Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) launched yesterday a licensing round to award foreign energy companies gas exploration licences involving 41 contracts, it said in a statement.

All companies and/or consortia interested in taking part in the bidding process will be required to apply to the NOC, with certain qualification documents, no later than August 22, it added.

After a pre-selection process, "bidders are required to submit their bids in a sealed envelop, delivered by hand, between 8am and 10am on 9/12/2007 [the date on which bids are to be opened] at the Mehari Hotel in Tripoli", it said.

Twenty-two blocks are located offshore, four in Sirte, seven in Ghadames, four in Murzuq and another four blocks in Cyrenaica, it added.

The NOC said it will sign deals with the bid winners in the second half of December.

Libya has held three oil exploration licensing rounds since the end of Western sanctions against the government in 2004, awarding permits to firms keen to secure a foothold in what is considered one of the world's last under-explored oil-promising regions.

Shokri Ganem, NOC's chairman, said last week Libya is limiting the latest round to gas because the government sees the offered areas as having promising gas potential.

Libya has 53 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves and some analysts believe it could have double that. It is a growing exporter to Europe and has bold plans for liquefied natural gas.