Damascus’ latest bid to reverse its petroleum fortunes is expected to draw the interest of a number of European and Asian companies. The Arab Republic already has a number of big names. UK-Dutch major Shell, France’s Total, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and India’s ONGC Videsh are already working on oil and gas projects in the country.

In April, Syria’s Petroleum & Mineral Resources Ministry invited international oil companies (IOCs) to explore, develop and produce oil and gas from eight blocks. The ministry is offering production sharing contracts in a competitive bid round on 15 September. This is not the first time Syria has sought interest from overseas. Damascus last issued international tenders in 2007, but oil firms failed to produce appropriate letters of guarantee needed to sign the contracts.

It is doubtful whether US companies will take the plunge in Syria. The close relationship the Assad regime enjoys with Tehran may put off US companies, even those who have shown a serious interest. In June 2009, the US finally installed a new ambassador in Damascus, after a five-year absence, but the relationship remains tense at best.

European and Asian energy companies have so far shown a greater willingness to get involved in riskier ventures. China in particular could extend its presence in the region, having invested heavily in Iraq and Iran. But the potential rewards on offer in Syria are far less than just over the border in Iraq.

Over the past 15 years, Damascus has seen its crude oil production fall steadily to less than 380,000 barrels a day (b/d). At its peak in 1995 the country was producing as much as 635,000 b/d. Earlier this month, Oil Minister Sufian Alao said he expected oil production to rise this year. A successful bid round will be essential to maintaining this progress and arresting Syria’s hydrocarbons decline.