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Majors join race for Croatia blocks in Adriatic Sea

Croatia received six bids in a tender for licences to explore promising new area's in the country's sector of the Adriatic Sea, the Ministry of Economy said

The tender, covering for 29 blocks, opened in April this year. The new areas are generating interest, not only amongst international oil companies, but also in Brussels and Washington, which are looking to counter the influence of Russia in Europe's energy markets.

The Croatian government is expected to choose the best bids by the end of the year and to sign concession agreements in the first quarter of 2015. The concession agreements will be granted for a period of up to 30 years, the economy ministry said in a statement. It added that bidders have shown interest in 15 of the 29 exploration blocks on offer.

The ministry did not disclose the name of bidders, but on 3 November Croatian daily Vecernji List quoted unnamed sources as saying that US supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron, France's Total, Italy's Enel and Croatia's INA had expressed interest in the licences.

Interest in Croatia's offshore reserves has risen as the Ukrainian crisis has escalated. 

A survey by Spectrum, a Norwegian seismic-imaging company, estimated last year that Croatia's offshore reserves could total up to 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Though some see this as overly optimistic, the amounts have nevertheless caught the eye of US and European policymakers which are looking for an edge to counter Russia's use of its energy supplies to influence Europe. 

The potential riches below the Adriatic have also helped fuel a vicious fight over control of Croatia's former state energy company. INA will be at the forefront of Croatia's efforts to develop the newly discovered offshore Adriatic reserves, yet the company is - much to the chagrin of politicians in Zagreb - controlled by Hungary's state energy firm Mol.

When a court in 2013 found former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader guilty of accepting a €10 million ($12.4 million) bribe to give management control of INA to Mol, the Croatian authorities saw a chance to wrest control back by trying Mol's chief executive, Zsolt Hernadi, in absentia. 

The past 13 months have seen five sets of failed negotiations between Mol and Croatia in an attempt to end of the dispute over who controls INA, in which the Hungarians own 49.08% and the Croatian state 44.84%. 

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