Under the terms of the law, a national agency for hydrocarbons resource valorisation, known as ALNAFT, will take charge of the tendering process of hydrocarbons licences and the payment of taxes and royalties, and a new regulatory authority will oversee compliance with the law and study applications for pipeline transportation and storage contracts.

Sonatrach plans to make the appointments in September, but a combination of bureaucratic delays and Ramadan, which begins in early October, make it more likely that the two heads will not be named until November. Mohamed Meziane, Sonatrach’s chief executive since September 2003, has denied speculation that he will head ALNAFT, saying that it would be a step down from his current portfolio.

The introduction of the hydrocarbons law, designed to transform Sonatrach into a commercial entity and make the award of oil and gas licences more competitive, is eagerly anticipated within the industry. ‘The redefinition of Sonatrach as a competitor will make it a more exciting and dynamic environment to work in,’ says a European oil executive. ‘The law will give us more access to pipelines, refineries and storage and distribution facilities, and we will have more chance to take a greater share in exploration and production contracts. At the moment, joint ventures are largely under Sonatrach’s leadership, but in future, international partners will be able to bring in their own employees without the Sonatrach rubber stamp, which will be a great benefit.’