Kazakhstan has invited energy companies and investors to bid on more than 50 oil and gas fields and prospective blocks in the country, hoping to continue a largely successful run of finding new operators for state-held resources.

According to a statement from the country’s Energy Ministry, the list of offered assets include 11 existing fields and 45 prospective acreages where additional exploration efforts will be required to identify commercially viable hydrocarbon reserves.

The fields are mostly small assets located mainly in the country’s two oil provinces, Atyrau and Mangistau, and are expected to raise interest from privately owned domestic independents already working in the area.

Earlier online auctions attracted only Kazakhstan-based investors, but Chinese players already operating in the country have also shown interest.

Long-term commitment

With the new offering, the ministry also intends to test whether large foreign companies are willing to invest long-term in the exploration drive before any commercial discoveries are confirmed.

The acreage on offer includes seven large blocks, ranging in area from 1800 to 5500 square kilometres, in the Ustyurt Plateau, a desert spanning southeast Kazakhstan and southwest Uzbekistan.

Six of the Ustyurt blocks were already on offer in March 2022 but failed to draw foreign interest after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a sudden spike in Kazakhstan’s risk profile.

Close to 90% of Kazakh oil exports to global markets transit Russia, but the country has announced efforts to diversify export routes since then.

The Ustyurt Plateau includes the Aral Sea, an inland salt water reservoir that has mostly dried up over the past 50 years. The area is widely believed to contain commercial hydrocarbon resources.

According to the ministry, two areas — Aral North and Aral South, comprising a total 9600 square kilometres — are also for grabs.

Exploration in Uzbekistan’s part of the Ustyurt Plateau has led to several oil and gas discoveries, with Russia’s Gazprom and privately held oil producer Lukoil signing up with Uzbek state oil and gas producer Uzbekneftegaz earlier to search for hydrocarbons in the area.

Besides the Ustyurt and Aral areas, authorities also hope to auction off several other large, unexplored blocks in the Atyrau and Aktyubinsk region that are adjacent to or lie near existing oilfields.

Potential investors can express interest by filing an application to participate in an online auction for a selected tract.

The ministry said applications may be filed online through state auction operator Gosreestr but did not provide any deadlines.

Once authorities review received applications, they are scheduled to announce the date of the auction for each asset or assets and then provide investors with additional information on the blocks, together with desired exploration commitments.

The information should help interested investors decide whether they want to participate in the auction, which would then require a non-refundable deposit.