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BOGOTA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Colombia has modified how it will give out offshore oil and gas exploration contracts and relaunched bidding for more than 20 possible production areas, as the Andean nation seeks to award oil contracts for the first time in more than four years.
Colombia last had an auction in 2014. The government held off recent bidding rounds because of low international crude prices, repeatedly postponing an auction that had been set to take place last year.
The new system will allow companies to bid on areas that interest them, not just on those already on offer by the government, the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) said in a statement on its website late on Monday.
The changes have been in the wind since mid-2018, but had to be approved by the ANH's directive counsel, which includes the ministers of energy and finance.
"The agency responded to the expectations of the industry and of communities," agency president Luis Miguel Morelli said in the statement.
Under the changes, offshore contracts that are extended beyond their original length will now cost companies at least 5 percent more in payments to the government, the statement said.
Disagreements between companies and the government will be resolved in arbitration and the conditions for communities near offshore projects will improve, the ANH added, without providing further details.
Companies currently interested in nine offshore blocks include state-run Ecopetrol, Anadarko, Shell , Exxon Mobil and Repsol, the ANH said.
"It is expected that once the decision is published and circulated the first nine offshore exploration and production contracts could be signed in the coming weeks," the statement said.
The areas listed for reactivated bidding include 18 onshore areas - most in the country's southeastern plains region - and two offshore blocks in the Caribbean.
Colombia needs to boost foreign investment to revive its stagnant crude and gas production.
The nation has some 1.78 billion barrels of reserves, equivalent to about 5.7 years of consumption, but wants to increase that to at least 10 years of consumption.
Colombia produces about 860,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, half for export. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Helen Murphy, Bill Trott and Andrea Ricci)