Vol 3, PW 6 (14 Apr 99) Exploration & Production

One casualty of the political uncertainty prevailing in Delhi is the promised extension of the deadline for bids under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP).

Any order formally extending the deadline from 18 May to a date in August or September this year requires the signature of the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Vazhappady Ramamurthy. These days, however, Ramamurthy is rarely found at his desk, overwhelmed as he is by fast-moving political developments in Delhi.

A source confides that Ramamurthy these days spends more time at his home constituency in Madras, planning future political strategy, than in the oil ministry looking after his brief. The source adds that officials in the ministry, from the Secretary down, have held discussions on extending the bid deadline but need the formal approval of Ramamurthy before notifying oil companies who have bought data.

The problem, quite simply, is that Ramamurthy is rarely around for them to raise the subject. When he is, other ministry business takes precedence.

This, adds the source, explains why companies have not yet been notified. That there is a growing clamour for the deadline to be extended is not in doubt.

Industry speculation is all but convinced that an extension will happen and four oil companies have formally written to the ministry requesting an extension. One company contacted by this report argues that NELP will get a better response if the deadline is extended until August, as oil prices will have had time to consolidate recent gains, and oil majors may be ready to commit more cash to exploration budgets after mid-year reviews in May or June.