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UPDATE 1-Angola to license 11-15 new oil blocks every 2 years

Shrikesh Laxmidas
Thursday, 7 Nov 2013 | 8:22 AM ET

(Adds quotes, details)

LUANDA, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Angola plans to speed up oil exploration from 2014 by licensing up to 15 new blocks every two years, testing more wells in the promising pre-salt layer and developing its operations in Iraq, the country's oil minister told Reuters on Thursday.

Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos added that Angola, which is Africa's No. 2 oil producer, will license 15 onshore blocks next year, but five will probably be set aside for state oil firm Sonangol.

"Our big goal is to continue developing exploration activity as have some knowledge of our reserves but not the full real potential," he said in an interview.

Angola will work with international oil majors to intensify drilling next year thousands of metres under the Kwanza Basin seabed through blocks known as pre-salt. Investors hope these could match huge discoveries in similar formations off Brazil .

The country licensed 11 pre-salt blocks to seven majors in 2011 and Vasconcelos said early discoveries by U.S. firm Cobalt and Denmark's Maersk showed positive signs, but these have to be confirmed.

He said drilling a pre-salt well can cost around $200 million and that after discoveries are made it may take between eight and 10 years for the blocks to start producing.

Local industry analysts say that if pre-salt exploration is successful, Angola could double its oil reserves and output.

The minister said the government will stick to a goal of reaching oil output of 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2015 despite a downward revision for next year's production in a state budget due to be discussed in parliament on Friday.

He added that Angola, which will average output of 1.75 million bpd this year, sees oil prices as "satisfactory" and that the market is appropriately supplied by OPEC's 30 million bpd output.

Sonangol operates the Najmah and Qayara fields in Iraq. These lie in Nineveh province around Mosul, an area where Sunni insurgents allied to al Qaeda have mounted many attacks. Iraq's deputy prime minister said last week that Baghdad is raising its guard in the province.

Vasconcelos said Iraq was a "difficult region" but noted that other international firms were operating there. Sonangol expected work in the Iraqi fields to contribute to developing its expertise, he said, and so to building up Angola's output.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)