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MEXICO CITY, March 9 (Reuters) - Oil companies have paid Mexico's oil regulator nearly $80 million for seismic data ahead of an auction for deep water fields, suggesting robust interest in the tender despite a lasting slump in the price of crude.
Thirteen companies, including Exxon Mobil, BP and BHP Billiton, have paid a total of 1.38 billion pesos ($78 million) to date for licenses to use deep water data, according to a document from national oil regulator CNH seen by Reuters.
Company executives say the sum reflects only a fraction of their spending in the past year to acquire geological data ahead of the Dec. 5 auction, which will feature 10 largely unexplored blocks in the Gulf of Mexico.
The deep water auction is part of the so-called Round One tender, fruit of an energy reform finalized in 2014 that ended a decades-long production monopoly of state-owned oil firm Pemex.
"It's a commitment to invest in Mexico," an oil company executive said about the purchase of deep water seismic data.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the executive said his firm spent more than $30 million last year on the acquisition of additional deep water seismic data from private suppliers.
Companies will want to see contract fine print yet to be finalized by the government before deciding to bid.
Oil companies already have spent an additional 346 million pesos ($19.5 million) on bid packages for the deep water auction, according to the document.
Global oil prices have fallen more than 70 percent in the past couple of years, prompting deep spending cuts across the industry and speculation that firms might pass on Mexico's potentially lucrative but costly deep water projects.
$1 = 17.7145 Mexican pesos Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Bill Trott