HOUSTON—Mexico is preparing to unleash more bidding rounds, Round 3.2 featuring onshore conventional resources and a tender for unconventional acreage, as it showcases shallow-water and deepwater blocks currently up for grabs.

The efforts come as the country, which has battled declining oil production, continues on its energy reformation journey nearly four years after opening the sector to foreign investors. Since then, Mexico has had eight tenders that have resulted in 72 new contracts; 67 new companies entering the sector, including 33 Mexican businesses, and $61 billion in new investment, according to country’s energy ministry.

Speaking in Houston on Oct. 19, Juan Carlos Zepeda, head of Mexico’s National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), said the timing of the next conventional resources round has not been officially announced, but terms will be released either this year or in 2018 with awards given in the summer.

However, he cautioned that “the precise timing has to be established by the ministry of industry.”

Zepeda added the energy ministry and regulators are also working to finalize environmental regulations needed for unconventional oil and gas development.

“We have to be sure that everything is in place. All the regulation has been issued but we are working with the ministry to review everything,” Zepeda said, later adding the tender is forthcoming but CNH must make sure the environment will be fully protected. “We’re expecting to be ready soon to release nonconventionals but again the precise timing has to be defined by the ministry.”

The tender featuring unconventional oil and gas would be separate from the conventional one.

Zepeda highlighted the country’s unconventional resource potential, singling out opportunities for liquids in the north and shale oil in the Tampico-Misantla Basin, where a report released earlier this year by IHS Markit indicated could be one of 24 global onshore so-called “super basins.”

The basin, located in the east-central part of Mexico and in the Gulf of Mexico’s shallow water, gained super basin status because it has already produced more than 7.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent (Bboe) and still has more than 5 Bboe in discovered conventional fields. Add to this the unconventional potential of the basin that Robert Fryklund, chief upstream strategist at IHS Markit and a lead author of the report, said “In many ways, it may well mirror America’s model super basin—the ever-resilient Permian Basin.”

But it wasn’t necessarily the onshore resources that packed the room for the event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership. Offshore—deepwater and shallow-water—was in the spotlight as Mexico’s energy officials shared details and insight on acreage being offered in the upcoming shallow-water Round 2.4, deepwater Round 3.1 and a farmout opportunity with Pemex for the Nobilis-Maximino deepwater block in the attractive Perdido area, near the world’s second-deepest oil and gas production hub on the U.S. side. The Royal Dutch Shell-operated facility produces oil from the U.S. GoM Great White, Tobago and Silvertip fields the company operates with partners BP, Chevron, Nexen and Unocal.

The latest tenders offered mark a step change in Mexico’s rounds in that the country is offering more blocks compared to earlier tenders.

“We wanted to start small and move in a very careful way to a larger scale for our biddings rounds. We needed to control the process, adapt our institutional procedures [and] improve the contractual scheme and structure for our upstream sector,” said Aldo Flores, deputy secretary for Mexico’s energy ministry. “Through each bidding round we have been learning, adapting and adopting some of the comments we’ve received from the industry. … We think we are closer to that sweet spot that works for both the Mexican government and companies in the development of an even better partnership.”

The upcoming rounds are the:

Shallow-water Tender: Offers 35 blocks with 2 Bboe in prospective resources. The blocks—which cover the Burgos, Tampico-Misantla Veracruz and Southeast Basin areas—will be awarded in late March. The resource potential is two times that of the potential resources awarded in all previous shallow-water rounds.

Deepwater Tender: Offers 29 blocks with 4.2 Bboe in prospective resources. Blocks—which include acreage in the Perdido Fold Belt area, Mexican Ridges and Salt Basin—will be awarded in January. Mexican energy officials say the resources have high oil and gas potential. The amount of acreage offered is three times that offered in Round 1 with twice the amount of prospective resources.

In addition, Pemex is seeking a partner to develop the Nobilis-Maximino Block, located 15 km from U.S. territory. The 1,525-sq-km block has more than 500 million barrels of crude oil equivalent in 3P reserves plus prospective resources of more than 700 million barrels of crude oil equivalent, according to Pemex.

Flores pointed out that Mexico’s first two rounds have already led to discoveries.

Eni has had success in shallow water of Campeche Bay offshore Mexico, having raised its estimate of resources in place at the Amoca Field to 1 Bboe after striking more oil with its Amoca-3 well.

Plus, the consortium of Talos Energy (operator), Sierra Oil and Gas and Premier Oil has celebrated an offshore oil discovery with the Zama-1 well hitting oil pay. Initial gross original oil in place estimates for the well range from 1.4 Bbbl to 2.0 Bbbl, according to Talos.

However, Zepeda said the Zama discovery could be the country’s first unitization case given its close proximity to Pemex acreage. “But we don’t have confirmation and we haven’t received any requests to provide technical assessment,” he said.

Velda Addison can be reached at vaddison@hartenergy.com.