BANGKOK—Thailand’s military-backed government said Wednesday that it is offering new concessions to explore for oil and gas for the first time in seven years, in a bid to offset dwindling reserves.
Twenty-nine exploration areas, most located in northeastern and central provinces, cover 54,655 square kilometers, or around 21,000 square miles, Kurujit Nakornthap, deputy permanent secretary of the Energy Ministry, said at a press briefing.
Six fields are in the Gulf of Thailand over an area of 11,808 square kilometers.
The ruling military, which ousted an elected government in May after months of street protests, has pledged to work to ensure energy security and reduce subsidies that have encouraged consumption.
Total oil and gas imports each year are worth around 1 trillion baht ($30.8 billion)—almost 10% of gross domestic product. About 85% of Thailand’s crude oil use is imported, Mr. Kurujit said.
“If we can’t find new energy supplies to accommodate the need, Thailand may be faced with energy crisis,” he said, adding that the country may need to import other kinds of energy, which could be costly.
Thailand’s natural gas reserves fell 24% over the past five years to 8.41 trillion cubic feet by the end of 2013, from 11.03 trillion in 2009, according to data from the Department of Mineral Fuels. Seventy percent of Thailand’s electricity generation relies on natural gas.
Subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas, diesel, and ethanol-blended gasoline have cost Thailand about 500 billion baht in the past three years, experts say.
Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters Thursday that the government will continue to increase the price of liquefied petroleum gas until the price is in line with the market rate.
“People have to accept the price hike, otherwise [the subsidy] will hurt the country in the future,” Gen. Prayuth said.
Mr. Kurujit said if the government can find bidders for all exploration areas, Thailand could discover up to five million cubic feet of natural gas and 20-50 million barrels of crude oil.