The country is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer after Nigeria.
 
The acreage on offer contains potential reserves of an estimated 6.2 billion barrels, including light and heavy oil.

The figure could be as high as 10.4 billion barrels, officials at state oil firm Sonangol said on Monday.
   
With sustained high oil prices and a transparent bidding process, Carlos Saturnino, negotiations director for Sonangol, said there was "a new momentum for exploration in Angola".
   
Public bids

"For the first time in the last 29 years, all the bids will be opened publicly," he said.

Angola hopes foreign investment will help it to achieve its goal of producing around two million barrels per day (bpd) by 2008, up from around 1.3 million bpd now.

Angola is sub-Saharan Africa's
second-largest oil producer

Sonangol officials were optimistic the target would be achieved.
   
"Our production is increasing by 25% a year and the price of oil is very good," said Syanga Abilio, Sonangol's administrator and vice president.

Abilio said he had had expressions of interest from large and small companies from across the world. International oil companies already present include Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil.

Analysts also expected massive interest. "It will be completely oversubscribed," said Catriona O'Rourke, analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "Every company in the industry will be looking at these blocks. It's one of the hottest exploration regions in the world."
   
Terms of reference

Referring to the fact the round is the first under a new legal framework, O'Rourke said: "There's no reason why it would not be transparent."

The terms of reference for the bidding round will be published on 13 December and could include a "linkage" that might favour investors also willing to take a stake in a further new refinery planned to process oil from blocks.
   

"Our production is increasing by 25% a year, and the price of oil is very good"

Syanga Abilio,
Sonangol administrator

Results of the bidding round were expected around March next year.
   
Sonangol officials said they had proposed a 60-day time frame, but some oil companies had asked for longer, so results would probably not be known until March.
   
Angola is also planning to hold its first onshore bidding round since before the civil war, which had been expected to
take place before the end of this year.
   
Officials said it was now expected next year.

Onshore activities

"Our government is going to take a decision very soon, probably early next year," said Abilio.

Onshore activities have been neglected since the early 1970s, as the country's 27-year civil war, which ended in 2002, kept oil companies away.
   
Australian independent oil company Roc oil started onshore operations in the still-volatile Cabinda province this year and other foreign companies are expected to follow.