MEXICO CITY - The first round of Mexico's historic opening of the oil sector has attracted huge interest from private firms jostling to enter the auction despite falling crude prices, officials said Monday.
Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said 46 companies have declared their interest, while 23 are being vetted to see if they qualify for the July 15 auction, and more could be added to the list.
"We have had a huge response from companies," Coldwell said at a briefing for foreign journalists.
"The doubts that existed that the collapse of oil prices could affect the Mexican round in this first tender have not materialized. On the contrary, there has been great interest."
Mexico's Congress approved last year a landmark energy reform that breaks up the monopoly on drilling held by state-run firm Pemex since 1938 and invites foreign investors back in the country.
A government website dedicated to the first round shows that global energy giants such as U.S. firm Chevron (IW 500/2), France's Total and Anglo-Dutch group Shell (IW 1000/2) are among the companies in the "pre-qualification" phase.
The first round involves 14 shallow-water blocks in the Gulf of Mexico. Coldwell said the government forecasts nearly $16.8 billion in investments over five years.
Sinking oil prices have forced the government to slash its budget and mull whether to delay auctions for unconventional oil projects, which include harder-to-reach deposits.
Coldwell said the government "has not resolved the issue" of the timing of auctions for unconventional projects and is "evaluating" them in light of the lower oil prices.
"We are also sounding out the appetite of the industry for unconventional resources in Mexico," he said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015