Three international companies bid for Afghan oil rights

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Three international companies have bid for new oil and gas exploration rights in Afghanistan, the mines ministry said Monday, as the troubled nation seeks to transform its vast mineral deposits into an economic engine ahead of NATO withdrawing its troops in 2014.

Dragon Oil of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait Energy and Turkey’s TPAO have submitted proposals for exploring blocks in the Afghan-Tajik Basin in northern Afghanistan, the ministry said in a statement.

“It is a great day for the people of Afghanistan because we’ve never had such big companies interested in Afghanistan,” Abdul Jalil Jumrani, the ministry’s director of policy and promotions said.

Exxon Mobil was rumored to have been interested in the exploration rights, but Jumrani said no Western companies had bid.

The United States Geological Survey says Afghanistan sits on more than $1 trillion worth of minerals, including copper, iron ore and gold.

But 30 years of war have prevented their exploitation. With U.S.-led NATO troops due to withdraw and hand the fight against Taliban insurgents to Afghan security forces, concerns about the country’s future stability still weigh on international investors.

China National Petroleum Corporation and its Afghan partner the Watan Group recently began pumping Afghanistan’s first oil from a different section of the Afghan-Tajik Zone.

The new exploration and production contracts will be awarded in the first quarter of next year, the mines ministry said.

“Today’s bids to explore the Afghan-Tajik Basin and the strong response to the tender announcement earlier this year signify a profound interest from the international community to join with the people of Afghanistan to build a sound and growing economy,” mines minister Wahidullah Shahrani said.

Tenders for other exploration blocks throughout Afghanistan would be offered in the future, he said.