Morocco sharply increased spending on petroleum exploration last year compared to 2005 and registered two natural gas discoveries, the government said Wednesday.

The country invested 520 million dirhams ($63 million) on exploration in 2006 – a 54 percent increase over the previous year, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Two drilling projects in the northwestern region of Gharb led to natural gas discoveries on the order of 10 million cubic meters (13 cubic yards), the government said.

Natural gas production reached 45 million cubic meters in 2006, compared to 26 million the year before. Sales generated Dh109 million, while the total was Dh48 million in 2005.

Morocco imports nearly all of its oil and gas from Middle Eastern countries, as well as Algeria. Its energy bill grew by 12 percent in 2006 to Dh44 billion, the government said.

The government said it signed four survey agreements and six prospecting agreements with oil companies last year. Other agreements were also extended.

(Middle East Times)