Oil and gas group Afren (LON:AFR) has secured government approval to assume operatorship and increase its interest in Block 1101, onshore Madagascar, to 90 percent. The move is a substantial increase on Afren’s existing 40 percent stake and comes with a commitment to a revised work programme which will see the first two exploration phases combined and the acquisition of an additional 150km of 2D seismic data. Afren has also undertaken to drill one commitment exploration well, which is planned for 2012.

Block 1101 lies on the Eastern flank of the Ambilobe basin in northern Madagascar. The Block encompasses an area of approximately 14,900 sq km onshore and sits adjacent to ExxonMobil's Ampasindava Block. The formation of the Ambilobe basin and the corresponding stratigraphic suites are closely related to the break-up of Gondwanaland and the later separation of eastern Gondwana. There are proven, large heavy oil accumulations in the Isalo formation in Central Madagascar (Bermolanga and Tsimiroro) which attest to the prospectivity of the region.

Some 220 km of 2D seismic was acquired over the block in 2008, identifying three major structures each close to existing wells with recorded oil shows. A working hydrocarbon system on the block is further evidenced by surface oil seeps. Under the agreed terms of reassignment, Afren has increased its overall participation in Block 1101 through the reassignment of a 50 percent interest previously held by Candax Energy, which remains a partner on the block with a 10 percent interest. Government approvals for the reassignment have been received and a revised work

Osman Shahenshah, Afren’s chief executive, said: “We see tremendous prospectivity in Madagascar and now, as operator, are keen to explore our high potential acreage. We are grateful to OMNIS and the Malagasy authorities for their endorsement and approval of this transaction and extended work program. We look forward to collaborating with our hosts and partner Candax in the ongoing exploration at Block 1101, and to further establishing Afren’s long term commitment to this exciting exploration play.”

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