The government is inviting companies to bid for licences related to the 13 blocks in the Cauvery and Mannar Basins off the country’s northwest coast.

The island nation, which spent nearly $5.04bn on imports in 2012 and does not produce oil currently, aims to end its dependence on imported fuel with the start of oil and gas exploration domestically.

The recent move follows after Cairn India, which bought a licence in a previous offering, started the second part of its exploration programme in the beginning of February 2013, reported Reuters.

In the upcoming round, five licenses are expected to be offered for bidding, as Cairn already holds rights to drill in one of eight blocks in the offshore Mannar basin, while China and India have been offered one each, which they are yet to accept.

During seismic work undertaken by Norway-based TGS Nopec Geophysical, oil and gas potential was identified in the northern Cauvery Basin, which has producing wells on the Indian side.

The Sri Lankan government said that the seismic data revealed the potential of over 1 billion barrels of oil under the sea in a 30,000km² area of the Cauvery basin.

Sri Lankan Petroleum Resources Development Secretariat director general Saliya Wickramasuriya was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that Exxon Mobil and Total have bought data related to the sale of 13 offshore fields.

Wickramasuriya also noted that Eni, BP and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) have also enquired about the bids, which are scheduled to open at a meeting in Houston on 7 March and complete in about five months subsequently.