PMO meet on exploration delays in NELP blocks

With the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry's spat with the Defence Ministry and the Department of Space remaining unresolved, a worried Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has convened an urgent meeting on February 27 on the delay in carrying out exploration activities in blocks under New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) and also delay in announcing NELP-IX round.

The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Pulok Chatterjee, who has been hyper-active in recent days in a bid to dispel the impression of a “policy paralysis”, has convened a meeting on February 27 to discuss the delays in the execution of exploration activity in the nearly 19-odd blocks that have been stuck due to sharp differences between the Petroleum Ministry, Defence Ministry and the Department of Space.

Specific details

Interestingly, the meeting notice issued by Prabhat Kumar, Joint Secretary in the PMO to Joint Secretary (Exploration), A. Giridhar, has sought specific details about ENI operated AN-DWN-2003/2 (NELP-V).

The AN-DWN-2003/2 block was offered under NELP-V and was awarded to ENI-ONGC-GAIL consortium.

The PMO had, in January, also held a meeting to discuss the issue of oil and gas blocks that had been hanging fire for want of clearances by the Deference Ministry and the Department of Space but nothing concrete had emerged out of that meeting with all sides maintaining their stand on the issue of nearly 19 blocks.

The PMO is also worried that the NELP-IX, which should have been launched in 2011, has been delayed endlessly and this could send a wrong signal to international investors.

For instance, one of the points of contention is that, last year, the Defence Ministry gave clearance for beginning work on eight offshore oil and gas fields in the Eastern and Andaman offshore zone, part of a tranche of 34 blocks which were offered to prospectors.

The bids were won by several Indian and multinational companies.

However, the Defence Ministry has refused to allow exploration, saying any activity could jeopardise naval operations.

Documents with The Hindu show that the Navy imposed restrictions on three blocks in the Eastern and Andaman offshore zone, after initially agreeing that exploration could begin there. The auction was held in the ninth round of NELP.

“On the basis of clearances given by the Defence Ministry vide note dated September 15, 2010, all necessary actions were taken, including printing of bid documents and giving advertisements in newspapers, inviting bids for 34 blocks under NELP-IX.”

The documents show that the Navy agreed to review its stand, while the Petroleum Ministry said it would point out the areas where no oil exploration was being planned, but no action was taken till February 8, 2012, when the last of a series of meetings was held.

To sort out differences between ministries

‘Delay in NELP-IX can send wrong signals'

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