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EXCLUSIVE-Mexico regulator expects first shale energy auction by end of year

MEXICO CITY, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Mexico is expected to hold its first shale oil and gas auction by the end of 2018, the head of the country's oil regulator told Reuters on Wednesday, potentially opening up one of the world's top reserves of unconventional energy.

Juan Carlos Zepeda said the Mexico National Hydrocarbons Commission he heads was waiting for authorization from the energy ministry to hold the auctions.

"We are waiting for the ministry of energy to establish the specific schedule, he said. (The tentative schedule) would be to award the blocks before the end of this year."

One of the auctions would be in the Burgos basin, which is part of a geological formation that includes the giant U.S. Eagle Ford shale region where U.S. firms are currently pumping oil and gas.

The other area up for grabs in the Tampico-Misantla basin in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Simon Webb)