“The licensing round will be announced in May 2010 and it will close in November that same year,” said Steve Toothill, a chief geologist at CGGVeritas.

“It’s a deepwater licensing round and we are looking at sub-salt plays,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of an African oil conference.

“There are already some companies who have signed up to buy data in the area … they are all deepwater players; it will be expensive drilling so that’s why the big major and the larger independents are interested,” he said.

Toothill said that his company bought around 12,000 kilometers of latest seismic data and had reprocessed a lot of existing data.

“We have seen some big structures below the salt so there could be some very large fields … there is big potential there,” he said.

“You have a vast unexplored basin and what drilling has been there have so far only been above the salt.”