(Adds quotes, details on auctions and background)
By Adriana Barrera
MEXICO CITY, July 18 (Reuters) - Mexican oil auctions originally set for later this year will be postponed until February, Mexico’s oil regulator announced on Wednesday, allowing time for leftist President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to take office.
During the campaign, Lopez Obrador said he would request a pause in auctions to allow his team to check for corruption in oil and gas contracts already issued to private and foreign companies.
Lopez Obrador takes office in December following his landslide election victory on July 1. The auctions are scheduled for Feb. 14.
The head of the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), which runs the auctions and supervises the contracts, said the decision was aimed at attracting more bidders, while also acknowledging the political transition.
“I see our approval of extending the time frame as positive,” said CNH President Juan Carlos Zepeda. “Let’s remember we’re about to enter into a process of the new administration reviewing the contracts, which is a process that will take some time, a few weeks, a few months.”
“This decision will have the benefit that we work together with the new administration,” Zepeda added.
Before the election, officials including Zepeda and Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell repeatedly said the auctions would take place as planned whoever won.
A total of 45 onshore areas, including both conventional and shale blocks, were originally scheduled for auction on Sept. 27, while tenders to pick partners for state-owned oil company Pemex in seven separate areas had been set to be awarded on Oct. 31.
The projects would have been the last scheduled oil tenders under outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto.
An energy overhaul in 2013 championed by Pena Nieto ended Pemex’s decades-long monopoly over the sector and allowed private producers to operate their own fields for the first time.
Since then, more than 100 contracts have been awarded at auction to a range of private and foreign firms, including oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron.
More than a dozen oil companies, including Germany’s Deutsche Erdoel and Mexico’s Petrobal, had already begun the process of pre-qualifying for the onshore auctions.
Six other oil companies have started the pre-qualification process for the Pemex joint ventures up for grabs, according to the CNH data.
Lopez Obrador said he is committed to expanding Mexico’s oil and gas output, which has declined steadily over the past 14 years, but some of his aides oppose private sector investment in the industry. (Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Grant McCool)