It is the northern suburbs of Chennai that beckon Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC), as the public sector giant gets ready to go deep down in its quest for hydrocarbon in the Palar Basin.

In a move which, depending on the level of success, may fetch an entirely different identity and value to those suburbs, the ONGC plans to drill two exploratory wells in the Gummidipoondi block, including in Manali village.

For the work, set to begin in the last quarter (January-March) of this fiscal, it is in the process of requisitioning men and material, ONGC sources said.

Located between two petroleum producing basins of the South – the Krishna Godavari Basin and the Cauvery Basin – the Palar Basin, spread over 1,800 sq km, was awarded to the ONGC and its partner, Tata Petrodyne Ltd, in the seventh round of the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP).

ONGC sources said each well would entail an expenditure of Rs.30 crore and take three months.

Work on the two wells, however, will just mark the beginning of an effort to explore the potential of the block, which comprises areas of Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts. In the second phase, more exploratory wells are to be drilled. Moreover, the NELP also stipulates minimum work programme.

‘Wild cat’

About the significance of the work, Basin Manager of Cauvery B.S.Josyulu said: “Palar Basin is geologically classified as a Gondwana basin, which means that the deposits here are of a very ancient period. The drilling here is termed as a ‘wild cat’, where we hope to strike hydrocarbons and they could be oil, gas or both.”

A lot, especially the pace of work and the investment pumped into the programme ultimately, would vary on the success levels.

A public hearing for the exploration was conducted by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in March this year.

The executive summary of the project said three exploratory drilling wells are to be drilled at a depth of up to 2,000-2,500 metres. Company sources added that as of now the plan is to drill two wells.

Seismic surveys

As a precursor to the exploration and drilling, detailed 3D seismic surveys besides geological and geochemical surveys were conducted recently.

While the ONGC expects positive results, there could be surprises, very typical of the exploration and production industry. “Whatever emerges from this drilling exercise will provide us valuable information in charting out our future course of exploration,” Dr.Josyulu said.