Reuters

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

MARRAKESH, Morocco, April 29 (Reuters) – Morocco will drill 30 oil and gas wells in 2014 as part of the North African kingdom’s planned expansion of exploration, its energy minister said on Tuesday.

Morocco has awarded dozens of permits to oil companies in the past few years, helped by its relative stability compared with other North African countries and by increasing indications of potential offshore and onshore reserves.

The country is also preparing a draft law on the mining industry to ease bureaucracy and attract more investments, Energy and Mines minister Abdelkader Amara said.

“We are stepping up our searches. The more we drill, the more we get closer to the discoveries,” Amara told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy conference.

“Since Moroccan independence (in 1956), we drilled only 300 wells. And in 2014 alone we are planning 30 wells.”

Morocco has attracted companies such as Chevron, Cairn Energy and BP, which are benefiting from favourable contracts awarded by the Moroccan Office of Hydrocarbons and Mining (ONHYM).

BP is the latest oil major to enter Morocco, announcing a deal with Kosmos Energy this week to take a share in three offshore blocks. Drilling will begin later this year.

Cairn Energy said earlier that it has began drilling at its second well off the Moroccan coast.

They follow U.S. major Chevron, which said in January that it had taken up three offshore blocks.

Excitement over Morocco’s potential has grown as technology has helped firms to discover new oil and gas fields over the past decade in regions that were formerly overlooked.

“We are trying to market the Moroccan destination for oil exploration and until now we have succeeded to attract investments for the most important regions,” Amara said.

(Editing by Patrick Markey and David Goodman)