The fall in global crude oil prices notwithstanding, India will launch its biggest-ever auction of oil and gas exploration areas in February, offering over 100 blocks for international bidding.
The nation is looking at using lower rig rates and oil field services that are likely to result from fall in international oil prices and global recession to comb the unexplored areas, so that its import dependence could be cut.
So far, 206 blocks have been awarded under seven rounds of bidding under the New Exploration Licensing Policy.
"It would be our endeavour to launch NELP-VIII in first quarter of 2009," Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said on the occasion of signing of contracts for 44 blocks awarded under the just-concluded NELP-VII bid round.
Petroleum secretary R S Pandey was more specific saying the round would come in February, while oil regulator DGH said 400,000 sq km of area roughly divided into more than 100 blocks would be offered in the next round.
"NELP-VII was our largest round so far with 150,000 sq km of area offered. NELP-VIII would be even larger," DGH director general V K Sibal said.
"Simultaneously, the fourth round of auction of coal bed methane blocks would also be launched," Deora said. Twenty-six coal blocks for exploiting gas lying below coal seams have been awarded in the previous three CBM rounds.
Under NELP, "68 discoveries of oil and gas (have been made) in 19 blocks, establishing in-place reserves of 500 million tonnes of oil and oil equivalent gas," he said.
The most notable being Reliance Industries' gas find in Krishna Godavari basin D6 block that would double nation's gas availability to 160 million standard cubic meters per day by 2012.
"We have started interacting with all the stakeholders for simplifying bid evaluation criteria and production sharing contracts for the forthcoming rounds of NELP and Coal Bed Methane policy," Deora said.
Under the first six rounds of NELP, a total investment of $8.3 billion in exploration of oil and gas was committed, out of which abut $4.5 billion has already been incurred on exploration and $1.4 billion on development of discoveries.
A further $1.5 billion exploration spend is budgeted for NELP-VII.
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, BHP-Billiton-GVK Power combine and Reliance Industries-BP Plc joint venture were among the firms that today signed contracts for exploring oil and gas in 44 oil and gas areas given under NELP-VII.
A total of 57 blocks were offered in the auction but bids were received only for 45. Cairn Energy's bid for a Mumbai basin deepwater block was, however, rejected.
ONGC and partners signed PSCs for the maximum number of 19 oil and gas exploration blocks they won in India's largest ever international bid round that closed on June 30.
First-timers BHP Billiton and GVK Oil & Gas inked agreements for seven deepsea blocks.
British Petroleum Plc made its maiden entry, winning one Krishna-Godavari basin block, in alliance with Reliance. BP is the operator of the block with 30 per cent.
"We have committed to conducting detailed 2D and 3D seismic surveys in the first phase," BP's South Asia Exploration director Jonathan Evans said.
He said the block appeared to be gas bearing and so the company's investment plans would not be impacted by the lower international oil prices.
Seven out of the 12 deepwater blocks went to the consortium of BHP Billiton and GVK Oil and Gas. Two blocks went to ONGC-GSPC consortia, while one block each went to Reliance Industries-British Petroleum JV and ONGC-Oil India consortia.
Of the shallow water blocks, the consortia of ONGC, GSPC and HPCL-Mittal Energy bagged two Krishna Godavari basin blocks.
ONGC-GSPC, Adani Welspun and Essar-Nobel were announced winners for one shallow water offshore block each.
ONGC and its partners were recommended for 11 onland blocks, while the consortia of OIL, HOEC and HPCL-Mittal Energy were recommended for a Rajasthan block.
Indian Oil Corporation, Omkar Natural Resources, Vasundhara Resources, EnSearch Petroleum, GAIL and Quest Petroleum were other recommended winners for onland blocks.