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Guyana's President Irfaan Ali on Friday opened bidding for the exploitation of offshore oil blocks in the tiny country, which has the world's highest reserves of crude oil per capita.
Ali said the government hoped to award 11 blocks in shallow waters and three in deep waters by May 31, 2023.
Winning bidders would pay a "signature bonus" of $20 million for the right to exploit deep water oil blocks and $10 million for oil-rich areas in shallow waters.
"What we are seeking to do is to have the best possible outcome for Guyana, given the lessons we have learned," said Ali.
In September, activist and lawyer Christopher Ram told AFP that different governments had sold the country's "sovereignty" by signing "bad and unbalanced" contracts in favor of oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, which operates the prolific Stabroek Block.
"The oil curse seems inevitable," he said, in reference to the trend in which poor nations with valuable resources fail to turn them into social and economic progress.
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The heavily-forested Guyana, one of South America's poorest and smallest countries, was recently found to have proven reserves of at least 10 billion barrels of oil, likely much more according to experts.
Ali said companies would have to pay $20,000 to take part in the bidding process, and would have until April 14, 2023 to submit their proposals.
He added that under the new licenses to be issued, companies would not be allowed to hold onto the oil blocks for a long time without doing the seismic work and drilling they commit to in their work plan.
"Once the bidders do not fulfill their obligations, the process of relinquishment -- that is where they will have to hand back the block to the government -- is made stronger and more expeditious," said Ali.
Guyana, a country of 800,000 people, currently produces 360,000 barrels of oil a day.
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