BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil eye Reliance gas find

London: Three of the world's biggest energy companies, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil are competing for a stake in a giant natural gas field discovered by Reliance Industries in the deep waters of the Bay of Bengal.

The three energy giants are in talks with Reliance Industries, India's largest private sector exploration company, for an interest in a field in the Krishna Godavari basin.

Lord Browne, BP's chief executive, held talks with Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, during a visit to India last week to sign an agreement to help Hindustan Petroleum build a US$3bn refinery in Punjab. The meeting was followed by further talks between executives of the two companies.

The Reliance field, within easy reach of one of the world's fastest growing energy consumers, was 2002's largest gas discovery. UK energy consultants Wood Mackenzie values the field at US$4bn taking into account only the proved and probable reserve estimates of 6 trillion cubic feet a conservative valuation since the field holds possible reserves of 14 trillion cubic feet.

Reliance has a foreign partner in the field Niko Resources of Canada, which holds a 10 per cent stake.

In the original auction, Indian regulators ruled that bidders must either demonstrate deep water exploration experience, which Reliance lacked at the time, or link up with a group that did.