Ecuador's state-run oil company Petroecuador on June 9 launched an auction for private companies to bid for a flagship offshore natural gas field, aiming at increasing the Andean country's production.

Petrocuador is looking for a partner for exploring and developing the Amistad natural gas field, at the nation's Guayaquil Gulf, currently producing 24 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd). The state firm has in recent years planned to call for partners for the key area, but the alliances have not been ultimately signed.

Petroecuador "seeks to increase production at the Amistad field and maximize the recovery factor of its deposits in the block," the company said in a release.

According to Petroecuador's manager, Italo Cedeno, the company's goal is to reach 100 mmcfd of gas production at Amistad, which will require an investment of some $500 million, he said earlier this week.

The natural gas is expected to be used for transportation, power generation or for producing fertilizers including urea, which it currently imported.

As part of the auction's first phase, Petroecuador expects to receive letters of interest from companies on June 13-24. Information will be provided by the state company to firms preparing offers.

Petroecuador is separately preparing a bidding process, to be launched in the coming days, to add a high conversion unit to its largest oil refinery, the 110,000-barrel-per-day Esmeraldas. Investment required for the project has been initially estimated at some $2.7 billion, Cedeno added.