Australia will open more than 30 new offshore sites for oil and gas exploration in order to meet a $14bn trade deficit.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said the opening up of new geological frontiers will greatly enhance energy security and reduce the country’s dependence on imports.

“Exploration in the areas under offer, some of which are in frontier areas, is a step towards achieving our energy security objective,” Ferguson said.

Australia has a $14bn trade deficit in crude oil, refined products and LPG, which is expected to rise, potentially as high as A$30bn ($25bn) by 2015.

The majority of the new sites are in Western Australia, which already has significant offshore energy projects while the rest are in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Energy companies will be able to bid for the right to explore the sites with contracts to be awarded by May 2011, reports AFP.