Column: Gas exploration in pause mode

Apr 07 2014, 23:02 IST
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SummaryGiven current scenario, it’s unlikely that even those who have bid earlier, will bid again

The pause button on the activity of the Indian upstream has again been pressed. In November 2013, the petroleum minister invited the members of the upstream community for an interaction. It was a review of the multiple issues that had piled up during the previous three years of inactivity and the actions taken in the preceding 10 months to resolve the same.

There was no doubt in the minds of participants that the government was in the action mode. Some of the solutions were obviously not ideal from the industry point of view, but at least these were steps in the positive direction, and there was hope that subsequent steps could find better resolutions. The ministry assured that the decisions reached would be notified or officially circulated and made effective by December 2013.

The question on officials’ minds was the industry perspective for the forthcoming round of NELP-X expected to be announced in January. The industry voiced a ‘cautious optimism’, provided all the decisions were notified, implemented and could be seen to be working in actual practice for some time, before NELP-X bidding took place.

That was then. And since then the tale has turned on its head.

While the policy for domestic gas pricing approved eight months back was notified, other decisions are said to be perambulating within the confines of various bhawans. The ministry, however, promptly announced the next round of NELP-X during the international conference Petrotech 2014 in January. Much to the concern of the audience, not a word was heard on the fate of the policies regarding other issues that had been the job-stoppers in various blocks. The ministry perhaps assumed that the intent to implement was adequate to keep the illusion of action alive. To top it all, the new round of NELP was announced to follow a unified licensing policy, the various components of which were yet to be finalised. So, while a tick-mark was achieved against the annual targets, the obstacles on the ground remained. And the possibility of action on the ground still remains remote.

The final nail in the proverbial coffin got hammered when the ministry referred a non-decision on the release of calculated gas prices to the Election Commission (EC) for its consent. It raised eyebrows as the decision had been taken nine months back, and notified two months back. The routine calculation was scheduled to be done based on the March actual prices, which

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