Desert spectacle marks start of Mangala oil production

Vol 13, PW 7 (10 Sep 09) People & Policy

Cairn India and partner ONGC put on a true spectacle in the Thar Desert on August 29 to mark the long-awaited start of commercial oil production from the Mangala oilfield in Rajasthan.

Journalists, bankers, oil company directors and assorted local dignitaries were all flown to the event in the arid Barmer district, where Cairn has become a household name. At 7am, our 39-seat aircraft from Mumbai approached the Indian Air Force airstrip at Uttarlai on the border with Pakistan, bringing into view clumps of vegetation dotted the undulating, arid landscape.

After a short bus ride, turbaned folk musicians and senior Cairn directors welcomed us. Mike â€کsniffer’ Watts, Cairn Energy deputy CEO, explained that the surprising greenery in this part of the desert is thanks to ground water between 100 to 300 metres below surface.

After breakfast, and another bus journey, we approached the landmark Mangala Processing Terminal (MPT), sand dunes rising on the horizon. Work was underway on either side of the road on a heated and insulated pipeline that would carry the waxy Barmer crude at 62-degrees Centigrade to Bhogat on the Gujarat coast, and also the pipeline that would bring in locally tapped saline water for use at the Mangala terminal.

Giant steel tanks wrapped in scaffolding also emerged in the distance, some of the 20 oil storage tanks being installed within the terminal, each capable of holding seven days production at the rate of 175,000 b/d. Once at the terminal complex, we stepped out into a scorching 43-degrees Centigrade heat, made worse by a mini-sandstorm.

It was only slightly better in the air conditioned high-ceiling tents set up by Cairn and ONGC to host chief guest Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, oil minister Murli Deora, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, other dignitaries and an audience of mainly locals. More than two hours after we reached the venue, the PM arrived at 11.30am and, after welcome ceremonies and speeches by Deora, Gehlot and others, he turned a â€کmock’ wheel on the podium to start the flow of first commercial oil from Mangala.

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