International companies need to submit their proposals by the end of September for the front-end engineering and design (FEED) on the $1bn project, which covers the construction of a gas-processing plant with a capacity of 500 million cubic feet a day.

The scheme also involves the installation of a 150 kilometre pipeline to link the plant with the country’s gas grid.

GDF says it plans to issue the tender for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) phase of the project in March 2009. It is also understood to be in discussions with potential bidders over whether to combine the FEED with the EPC element.

GDF is the sole operator of the Touat permit, after signing a production-sharing agreement in early 2003. It holds a 75 per cent stake in the concession, which comprises blocks 352a and 353. Algerian state energy company Sonatrach holds the remaining equity stake.

GDF applied to Sonatrach late last year to commercially develop the field, and the release of tender documents is being interpreted by industry observers as the first formal indication that the development request has been granted.

Covering an area of 15,392 square kilometres, the Touat permit is situated about 200km southwest of In Salah and 200km northwest of the Ahnet gas basin. GDF estimates Touat holds 60-120 billion cubic metres of natural gas.