Assam prefers domestic explorers to foreign explorers

Vol 4, PW 20 (08 Nov 00) Exploration & Production

Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has given the clearest indication yet that he will not allow blocks from Assam to be auctioned in the next round of the New Exploration Licensing Policy.

In an interview with Petrowatch, Mahanta said all prospective hydrocarbon blocks in the state should instead be handed over to Oil India or ONGC. The role of foreign companies in Assam, said Mahanta, should be restricted to the evaluation of exploration data or the acquisition of seismic.

Actual exploration, he said, should be the "exclusive preserve of Oil India and ONGC." Past experience, said Mahanta, showed that foreign companies were "not serious" about exploring in Assam. "They will bid and take the blocks but they never turn up," he added, "So it all ends up in wasted hope." Mahanta admitted there is a perception of Assam being a violent state prone to regular bouts of bloodletting, but added: "Is it more disturbed than Africa I don't think so." Mahanta also voiced deep unhappiness with production sharing arrangements the government signs with foreign companies.

"We will lose under such arrangements." He said Assam authorities would prefer to float a company and strike joint venture deals with ONGC or Oil India. "Only by doing that can we get a good deal from our oil reserves."