Govt approves bulk of delayed 52 oil and gas blocks

Investor-friendly NELP on the anvil

Govt approves bulk of delayed 52 oil and gas blocks

The government has cleared a bulk of the 52 oil and gas blocks that were stuck for want of defence and environmental clearances, Oil Secretary G C Chaturvedi said on Sunday.

“A high level committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and comprising of officials of ministries such as defence and environment, has been set up to give clearance for exploration blocks,” he told reporters at the Petrotech 2012 Conference here.

The panel takes up clearances of blocks that have been pending for a long time.
The government had in nine rounds of New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP), since 1999, awarded 254 blocks to domestic and overseas explorers. Of these, 52 blocks are stuck for want of clearances, hurting the nation's plan to expedite exploration of oil and gas to cut its ballooning import bill.

“We have been clearing blocks and I believe only 11-12 blocks are pending for clearances now,” Chaturvedi said.

Till August, 52 blocks awarded under various rounds of NELP bidding were pending for clearance by different organisations such as Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Environment and Forest, international boundary disputes and state governments.

Of the blocks awaiting clearances, 22 were of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and 15 belong to Reliance Industries. Australian BHP Billiton's five blocks, three of Cairn India, two of Santos International and one each of British Gas, BP, Focus Energy, ENI of Italy and Jubilant Oil and Gas were stuck.

Chaturvedi said out of 52 blocks, clearances were pending in respect of 43 blocks from Ministry of Defence due to deference related issues. Most of these have now been cleared.

"Efforts have been made to get necessary clearances through meetings with concerned ministries/departments. Efforts are on to get clearances in respect of remaining blocks," he said.

Keen to attract global bidders in India’s oil and gas exploration, the government is in the process of making the exploration rules simpler and more investor friendly.

The new rules are expected to be in place well before the oil and gas blocks go under the hammer the next time, which is likely to take place this calendar year itself. “Before the 10th round, we want to put in place more investor friendly system, both for investment and pricing," Petroleum Minister Japial Reddy said on Sunday.

The revamp in NELP regime is expected to attract global majors, who had shunned India earlier owing to India’s irregular exploration record and rigid tax regime.

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