Approvals still take time in Indian E&P sector

Vol 7, PW 6 (04 Jun 03) Exploration & Production

ANYONE INTERESTED in Indian exploration acreage should take a moment to reflect on the experience of two foreign companies already here, as oil minister Ram Naik and ministry officials pack their bags for London, Houston and Calgary to promote NELP-IV.

Petrom of Romania had a harrowing experience trying to increase its participating interest in block BB-OS/5 through an assignment of interest by Essar Oil; the required government approval came at the end of 'Phase-II', almost eight months after the application was filed! Similarly, Premier Oil of the UK has shown much interest in acquiring positions in India's inhospitable northeast but is still experiencing difficulties as it tries toacquire an interest and operatorship of block AAP-ON-94/1 from Hindustan Oil. To add to its woes, Premier is waiting patiently to acquire a substantial participating interest and operatorship in block CR-ON-90/1 in the Cachar district of Assam from Tullow Oil and Essar.

PETROWATCH learns that Premiers man in Delhi Rob Marshall last week visited Shastri Bhawans second floor to urge senior oil ministry officials to accelerate the approval for CR-ON-90/1. Marshalls anxiety is understandable: senior officials dealing with the 'file' will be away in June on the NELP-IV roadshow - attracting foreign investment in the exploration sector! Only a handful of foreign E&P companies operate in India (Cairn, Hardy, Niko, Premier) and none, save Premier, is interested in the northeast.

Premiers problems are all the more astonishing given that the two senior oil ministry officials responsible for the upstream sector, joint secretary Jayant Mauskar and Surajit Mitra, are Indian Administrative Services officers from the Assam and Meghalaya cadre.