BUENOS AIRES, May 17 (Reuters) - Argentina awarded permits to begin hydrocarbon exploration in 18 areas off the coast of the country in the Malvinas West basin to companies including Exxon Mobil Corp, Total SA, YPF SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the government said on Friday.
The winning companies offered bids totaling $724 million, the government said, to explore the areas that are located in the South Atlantic, some near the Malvinas Islands under the control of the British government, but whose sovereignty is claimed by Argentina.
The other companies that will make up exploration consortia include BP, Qatar Petroleum, Tullow Oil , Pluspetrol, Wintershall, Equinor , Eni, Mitsui &Co Ltd and Tecpetrol SA.
Offshore exploration could boost the country's reserves, which fell in the last decade due to government regulations that discouraged foreign investment in the energy sector.
President Mauricio Macri has sought to increase energy production. In 2018, 18 percent of the country's gas production came from offshore areas. (Reporting by Jorge Otaola and Walter Bianchi; writing by Cassandra Garrison Editing by Marguerita Choy)