West Bengal anger as ONGC pulls out

Vol 4, PW 23 (20 Dec 00) Exploration & Production
     

In 1967, two Soviet geologists told a Calcutta press conference Bengal was the biggest oil hope for India.

Not long after, ONGC began exploration. In 32 years, it has drilled more than fifty wells at varying depths over the deltaic region ranging from the mangrove coastal forest region of Sundarbans to the thickly populated areas around Calcutta.

We found oil in a few structures," a senior official tells Petrowatch, "But the deposits are thinly spread and volumes are not commercial." Today, more than three decades after the first well was drilled, ONGC has decided to stop exploration in the state. We have sunk in close to Rs650cr ($143m) and we cannot afford to lose more money," adds the source, "We can't keep the Bengal project going just to give work to some casual labourers." The announcement has provoked fierce protests from West Bengals communist governmentand trade unions.

Union chief Chittabrata Majumdartells Petrowatch ONGC "never seriously followed up the breakthroughs made in initial exploration." West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya has written to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and oil minister Ram Naik protesting ONGCs decision to close the Bengal project. "We have reason to believe enough drilling has not been done in promising structures like Ichapur and GolfGreen, where oil was found,reads hisletter to Naik.