Story by Agence France-Presse

Mexico’s government auctioned off all 25 onshore oil and gas fields offered Tuesday, exceeding expectations as domestic startups won most contracts while billionaire Carlos Slim was the biggest loser.

The auction was the third this year following the 2014 enactment of a historic energy reform bill that opened the sector to private investors for the first time since 1938, breaking the monopoly of state firm Pemex.

The latest sale drew interest from 14 consortiums and 26 individual firms, despite low international crude prices and even though most of the blocks are located in regions plagued by drug cartel violence and fuel thefts.

While US, Canadian and Dutch firms were among the winners, new Mexican energy outfits won 22 of the 25 contracts, including two as part of consortiums with foreign companies.

The energy ministry had hoped to award at least five contracts, so the auction was a success, unlike the previous sales for shallow-water fields in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We are pleasantly surprised by the huge success of this third auction,” National Hydrocarbon Commission president Juan Carlos Zepeda told a news conference.

“If you look at the international situation, this level of success isn’t seen in any other country,” he said, referring to falling oil prices that have affected investments.

– Slim loses out –

The government hopes that total investments at the 25 fields will amount to $620 million in the first five years, rising to $1.1 billion during the lifetime of the contracts.

Four mature fields each containing more than 100 million barrels of oil and gas were the first ones auctioned off.

A group including Netherlands-based firm Canamex Dutch and two Mexican companies were awarded the Moloacan field in the eastern state of Veracruz.

Compania Petrolera Perseus won a field in southern Tabasco state, Diavaz Offshore was awarded another in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas and Servicios de Extraccion Petrolera Lifting de Mexico was given one in Veracruz.

The 21 other fields each contained less than 100 million barrels, with a slew of individual Mexican firms the winners in 17 of them.

But the new company of telecommunications magnate Slim, Carso Oil and Gas, failed to win anything as the royalties it proposed to the government were always well below the other offers.

The government had hoped to have a high participation of domestic companies as it seeks to develop new firms in a sector dominated by Pemex for nearly 80 years.

Officials said the onshore fields were attractive because they have already produced oil and still have enough left to make it profitable for smaller firms.

“These results are very positive given the current international situation of low oil prices and the expectation that this situation will persist through 2016 and 2017,” said a research note by Spanish bank BBVA.

– Firms undeterred by violence –

The violence in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Veracruz was apparently not a factor in the auction.

Those states have seen some of the most brutal turf wars between rival drug cartels as well as rampant theft from pipelines operated by Pemex.

More than 5,000 illegal taps were discovered in the first 11 months of this year, compared to 3,286 in the same period in 2014, according to official figures.

Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell noted on Monday that Congress is mulling legislation to toughen laws against such theft, which has hit Pemex “very hard.”

The government also softened the terms for the auctions in order to lure more potential investors.

Officials were disappointed with the outcome of the first auctions for projects in shallow waters off the Gulf of Mexico.

Only two of 14 sites were awarded in July and three of five in September.

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