China has sold exploration rights for three oil and gas exploration blocks in the remote northwest Xinjiang region for more than 2.7 billion yuan (US $422 million), the Xinhua news agency reported Jan. 24.

Shenergy Co., Xinjiang Energy (Group) Co. and Zhongman Petroleum and Natural Gas Group Corp. (ZPEC) secured the rights after a bidding competition that attracted seven companies, according to the report.

Lack of private investment in oil and gas exploration has been a big stumbling block in Beijing’s attempts to reform the sector, and it has picked the hydrocarbon-rich autonomous region of Xinjiang to try to break the grip of big state-owned companies.

The three blocks in the region’s Tarim Basin were among five that the government put up for auction in December, totaling 9,091 sq km (3,510 sq miles).