TIRANA, May 18 (Reuters) - Albania will offer companies interested in oil and gas exploration seven offshore and onshore blocks in June in a bidding process, officials said on Monday.
The small Adriatic state began preparing the bids a year ago after a yet-inconclusive but significant discovery by a venture between Shell and Petromanas in southern Albania drew much interest.
Energy minister Damian Gjiknuri wants bids for onshore blocks Four and Five in southern and southeastern Albania and Dumre in central Albania to be handed in by June 15.
Bids for the remaining blocks, the offshore Ionian 5 and Rodoni and the onshore Panaja and C, would be accepted until June 25, Gjiknuri told the Natural Resources Agency.
Once the bids come in, the Natural Resources Agency will evaluate the offers and recommend the best one to the ministry so that it may negotiate a production-sharing agreement.
The companies would be able explore for an initial period of up to five years which can be extended to seven if needed, and they can develop and produce in the block for 25 years or more in accordance with Albanian oil laws.
Offshore oil exploration caused friction last week between Albania and neighbouring Greece after Tirana asked Athens, according to press reports, to stop its programme of offshore oil search until both countries resolve their dispute over the waters in the Ionian Sea.
Part of the Ionian 5 block offered by Albania overlaps with the Ionian Sea area in which Greece seeks to search for oil.
The previous Albanian government agreed a deal dividing the continental shelf with Greece, but was later reversed by the country's top court after a complaint brought by the ruling Socialist Party.
Attempting to play down the controversy with Greece, Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati said on Monday that the area was subject to binding international agreements. (Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein)