In November, BP received approval to proceed with the deal from Libya’s oil and gas council. The UK oil major says the Sirte wells could take up to six months to drill.

Wells in the onshore Ghadames Basin will cost up to $10m to drill.

The UK company signed a deal with state-owned National Oil Corporation on 29 May to explore 54,000 square kilometres of acreage across the Ghadames and Sirte basins.

The final stage in the approval process will see the ratification of the agreement by the General People’s Council (cabinet), expected in the first quarter of 2008.

On ratification, BP will pay $350m, which includes $50m for local education and training projects. It will spend a further $50m on training in hydrocarbons production.

Reports that the delay between signing and ratification has been caused by political differences between London and Tripoli have been denied by both BP and the UK government.

There has been speculation that Tripoli is withholding approval of the deal to pressure the UK to repatriate Abdelbaset Ali Mohammed al-Megrahi, who is serving a prison sentence in Scotland for the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

“The merits of the deal stand on their own,” says Toufic Nassif, vice-president of BP Libya.