State-run firm Qatar Petroleum (QP) has invited international oil companies (IOCs) to bid for an offshore gas block as it explores outside the hydrocarbons-rich North field.

Block D is in the same area as two existing blocks that have already been auctioned off.

Although the blocks are not in Qatar’s prized North field, the bid round is expected to receive strong interest considering the uncertainty over when the state will lift the current moratorium on further exploration in the field.

QP awarded the first of the four areas, Block 4 North off the north coast, to Germany’s Wintershall in November 2008.

In September 2009, QP awarded a 25-year deal for Blocks B and C to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

The Chinese company is planning a $100m exploration drilling campaign between 2009 and 2014, and will make further investment decisions after it has studied the results.