Shell Exploration and Production has signed an agreement with Bulgaria to explore oil and natural gas in the Black Sea deepwaters.

The agreement will allow Bulgaria to reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas.

In September 2015, the company was elected the holder of permit for deepwater prospecting and exploration of oil and natural gas in Block 1-14 Silistar that covers 7,000km².

Bulgaria Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said that Shell will invest €18.6m ($20.5m) to perform seismic surveys.

"The licence that we have been awarded today allows us to evaluate the potential for oil and gas in offshore Bulgaria."

The proposed working programme includes 2D and 3D seismic studies, as well as measures for protecting the environment.

Petkova said that exploration of Silistar block is part of the increase in indigenous yield that represents a primary condition to ensure energy security and independence.

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By GlobalData

Reuters quoted Shell International Exploration and Production regional director Eileen Wilkinson saying: "The licence that we have been awarded today allows us to evaluate the potential for oil and gas in offshore Bulgaria.

"This process can be quite a long process and with much uncertainty."

Total, OMV and Repsol are acting as joint venture partners in another exploration block ‘Khan Asparuh’ in the Black Sea, Bloomberg reported.

Bulgaria spends around $1bn per year on import of gas from Russia, and aims to diversify supplies after they were cut for two weeks in 2009 following a dispute regarding prices between Ukraine and Russia.