Panel set up to clear roadblocks in oil and gas exploration operations

Seeking to remove the unreasonable roadblocks and to win the confidence of international investors in the oil and gas exploration operations, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has stepped in and set up a high-powered Committee of Secretaries (CoS) to examine all issues of the petroleum sector and give its recommendations for grant of smooth clearances in future, including working conditions for foreign nationals of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The necessity to set up such a committee has been felt after the “bad experience” of the Petroleum Ministry, which is faced with non-cooperation from various departments and Ministries in the grant of clearance for exploration operations in various parts of the country. Nearly two dozen oil and gas blocks offered under various new exploration licensing policies (NELPs) are stuck at various stages due to “dragging of feet” by the Defence Ministry, Department of Space and various other agencies, putting question mark over the credibility of the Indian policies in the eyes of the international investors.

The CoS will comprise Secretary, Petroleum and Natural Gas; Secretary, Coal; Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests; Secretary, Law and Justice and a representative from the Planning Commission. This decision was taken after a meeting convened by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Pulok Chatterjee, on March 3.

The CoS would examine all the issues and give its recommendations as soon as possible so that no objection certificate (NOC) obtained before allocation / bidding of the blocks, for petroleum, gas or coal, is comprehensive and meaningful so that after the blocks are awarded there are no delays on account of clearances.

The rollout of NELP IX, which has been delayed for months now, has been stuck due to non-cooperation from the Defence Ministry and Department of Space in clearing the blocks.

Under the law, one-time all inclusive clearance is required from ministries of Home Affairs, External Affairs, Environment and Forests, Defence (DRDO, Army, Navy, Air Force), Coal, Mines and other agencies such as Department of Space, DGCA and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) prior to the offer of blocks pertaining to `Petroleum Operations' related to oil, natural gas, CBM, shale gas/oil, oil shale and gas hydrate on onshore and offshore area up to EEZ.

The CoS would also look into the issue of grant of work permits for foreign nationals and suggest their terms and conditions to avoid delays. MHA clearances for foreign nationals deployed are now issued block-specific. Clearance is required be issued as per the number of days of deployment of individual for a particular operation like drilling, survey in multiple blocks.

The CoS would also specifically look into setting clear guidelines for deployment of manpower from countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The CoS would also look into the issues with State governments like urban, SEZ and agricultural land, the issue of tribal land free from all encumbrances and law and order.

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