* Says finalising evaluation of bids
* Statoil, ExxonMobil, Gazprom among bidders
* Raises gas reserve estimates to 53.2 tcf from 46.5 tcf
By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Tanzania is in final stages of evaluating bids for oil and gas blocks it offered in its latest bidding round and plans to pick the winners before the end of this year, its upstream regulator said on Friday.
East Africa is a new hotspot in hydrocarbon exploration after substantial deposits of crude oil were found in Uganda and major gas reserves were discovered in Tanzania and Mozambique.
"The evaluation of bids is in the final stages and the results of this ongoing process will be made public when concluded," James Andilile, acting managing director of the state-run Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), told Reuters. "Winners of the successful bids should be announced this year."
Tanzania, a focus for natural gas exploration, received five bids in May for four of the eight oil and gas blocks it offered in its fourth offshore licensing round. In some of the blocks there were joint bids.
ExxonMobil, Statoil, Russian gas producer Gazprom and state-run Chinese offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd are among companies that submitted bids.
Abu Dhabi state-owned investment fund Mubadala and another United Arab Emirates firm, Ras Al Khaimah Gas LLC, also put forward bids.
Tanzania, which has made big discoveries of natural gas off its southern coast, had offered seven deep-sea offshore blocks and one block in Lake Tanganyika.
The deep sea offshore blocks are located in water depths of 2,000 to 3,000 metres adjacent to proven prospective blocks, while the Lake Tanganyika North block is in a water depth of 1,500-metres along the east African rift system, the government said in its bidding round announcement.
Andilile also said the government had raised its estimate of recoverable natural gas resources to up to 53.2 trillion cubic feet (tcf) from 46.5 tcf previously following recent major discoveries offshore south of the country.
"There have been recent big discoveries of natural gas in deep-see blocks by exploration companies, such as Statoil, and this has therefore increased the country's gas reserves," he said.
Tanzania's energy ministry said it expected the country's gas resources to increase to 200 tcf by next year if new finds in east Africa's second-biggest economy prove productive.
Tanzania has so far signed at least 25 production sharing agreements (PSAs) with some 17 international energy companies.
Winners of the latest bidding round would be subjected to new PSA terms introduced in November that experts said toughen some of the conditions for energy firms seeking to explore and develop the nation's big gas prospects. (Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Jane Merriman)