ONGC's first retail outlet by March end

CHENNAI OCT. 10. Oil companies planning a foray into retailing of transportation fuels will find the going good if they can takeover an existing network, according to Subir Raha, Chairman and Managing Director of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

The head of the exploration and production major, which is seeking to integrate its operations by getting into the downstream sector, had this to offer in response to a query on the likely role for ONGC in the event of disinvestment of the retailing arm of Indian Oil Corporation.

Refusing to comment on the proposed disinvestment of the IOC by the Centre, Mr. Raha, in an interaction here today with a group of select press persons, however, said integration was a key to survival for oil exploration and production companies.

ONGC, one of the first four firms to get licence for retailing petroleum products, was looking at a "whole range of issues to integrate.'' On the retail initiatives, he said, it was keen on putting in place a strong brand strategy before venturing into the field. "We are deliberately going slow,'' as the branding process was taking time. Moreover, setting up retail outlets also involved collating several other inputs, he said, while setting March-end as the timeframe for the first petrol pump of ONGC — in Mangalore — to come up.

The company, however, was in an advanced stage of kicking-off its ambitious Sagar Samriddhi deep-water exploration project on the East and West coasts. Entailing an investment of around $1.5 billion spread over three years, it is described as the single largest such exercise worldwide.

With regard to its overseas operations, he said ONGC Videsh was close to finalising the second deal in Sudan and would get the first oil from the Sakhalin field in Russia in 2006. The company was in the process of expanding its presence to more countries, he said negotiations were in progress for about five such projects. The ONGC would bring in 20 million tonnes of equity oil by the end of 11th Plan, he said.