By Loucoumane Coulibaly
YAMOUSSOUKRO (Reuters) - Ivory Coast aims to roughly double oil and gas output by 2020 as it pushes for foreign investment in offshore exploration, the head of state oil and gas company Petroci said on Wednesday.
While it has developed natural gas deposits for domestic consumption, French-speaking West Africa's largest economy has ignored its energy sector for decades as the government concentrated on developing agricultural exports.
Authorities are now seeking to develop offshore reserves in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.
"Today we have around 60 blocks. We've awarded about 20," Petroci's Managing Director Ibrahima Diaby said on the sidelines of an energy conference in Ivory Coast's capital Yamoussoukro.
"With current exploration our ambition is to reach 200,000 BOE (barrel of oil equivalent) in 2020," he said.
That's around twice current output levels.
Companies either currently conducting exploration in Ivory Coast or preparing to do so include France's Total, U.S. firms Exxon Mobil and Anadarko, and Africa-focused Tullow Oil.
Russia's second-largest oil producer Lukoil withdrew from its Ivorian operations earlier this year. [nR4N14X016]
Ivory Coast has also been expanding its existing oil and gas production.
It has one of West Africa's most reliable power grids, with few blackouts, allowing it to export electricity to its neighbours. But since 2012 an economic boom has seen demand balloon by around 10 percent annually, straining capacity.
Diaby said Canadian Natural Resources and Ivory Coast's Foxtrot International had raised daily natural gas production to 250 million cubic feet from 220 million three years ago.
Ivory Coast's daily crude oil output meanwhile has risen to 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) from around 30,000 bpd last year, he said.
The country is also pushing forward with plans to begin importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to supplement domestic supply to its gas-fired power plants.
Deals are still being finalised and Diaby declined to give further details, but said the first LNG shipments were expected to arrive in 2018.
Houston, Texas-based Endeavor Energy said in March that it was seeking to secure financing by the end of the year for a $900 million gas-fired power project in Ivory Coast that would be fuelled by imported LNG. [nL5N16U61Q]
(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Susan Fenton)