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India offers 20 blocks for oil exploration
Updated: 2005-01-04 21:15

NEW DELHI - Energy-starved India offered 20 oil and gas blocks for exploration on Tuesday, in a fifth round of bidding under a new policy to speed up the search for fuel to feed the country's surging demand.

India imports about 70 percent of its crude oil needs and this is expected to rise to 85 percent in the next 10-15 years. Oil is India's biggest import item.

The 20 blocks, under the fifth round of the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP-5), cover an area of about 109,210 sq km and comprises six deepwater blocks, two shallow water and 12 onshore blocks.

The 12 onshore blocks are in nine states and include Maharashtra for the first time under the NELP, the government said in a statement.

This round has been launched after oil and gas discoveries made by Reliance Industries Ltd. and Niko Resources Ltd. in Krishna Godavari deepwater in the south and by Cairn Energy in Rajasthan, it said.

India, which is seeking investments in the exploration sector from local and foreign firms, has so far signed 90 contracts from the blocks offered in the previous rounds. The companies that have signed the contracts have pledged a total investment of $4.4 billion.

Global oil majors, such as ExxonMobil Corp., have not bid for Indian exploration blocks offered under the NELP.

India, as with most countries in Asia, must vie with other regions for big players such as BP and Royal Dutch/Shell, which have the most advanced deepwater technology, but are focusing on more promising deepwater areas in West Africa, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Brazil.

Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who launched the NELP-5, said that he would try to persuade foreign oil majors to bid in this round.

Reliance Industries, India's biggest oil and petrochemicals firm, discovered an estimated 14.5 trillion cubic feet of gas in a deep-sea block in southeastern India in 2002.

British oil and gas firm Cairn Energy has announced oil discoveries in the desert state of Rajasthan, including its Mangala field with an estimated 650-1,100 million barrels of oil in place.

Several smaller discoveries have also been reported.

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