Clearances for oil blocks on fast track: oil secretary

The government has cleared all but a dozen of 52 oil exploration blocks that received successful bids but were were stuck over defence and environmental clearances, petroleum secretary G C Chaturvedi told newspersons on Sunday.

"A high-level committee headed by the cabinet secretary and consisting of officials of ministries such as defence and environment has been set up to give clearance for exploration blocks ... we have been clearing blocks and I believe only 11-12 blocks are pending for clearances now," Chaturvedi said on the sidelines of the Petrotech 2012 conference.

Petroleum minister S Jaipal Reddy told the conference earlier that the government was preparing to launch a revised version of the New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP), which he hoped would attract more global oil explorers.

Chaturvedi's declaration perhaps shows a side-stepping of the proposal for a national investment board (NIB) that would have overriding powers to clear major projects. The NIB move has been opposed by several ministries, most notably the environment and forests ministry headed by Jayanti Natrajan.

Chaturvedi elaborated that in nine rounds of auctions under the NELP since 1999, the government had awarded 254 blocks to domestic and overseas explorers. However, 52 of these blocks had so far been stuck for want of clearances. The defence ministry alone had blocked 43 of these proposals, he said.

Of the proposals awaiting clearances, 22 were from state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corp, 15 from Reliance Industries Ltd, five from Australia's BHP Billiton', three from Cairn India, two of Santos International and one each of BP, Focus Energy, Italy's ENI and Jubilant Oil & Gas.

Explorers have invested over $20 billion to explore the blocks awarded in the various auction rounds. So far, 113 oil and gas discoveries have been made in 38 blocks. Under the auction regime, about 737 million tonnes of oil equivalent hydrocarbons reserves have been added, Chaturvedi stated.

"A high-level committee headed by the cabinet secretary and comprising officials of ministries such as defence and environment has been set up to give clearance for exploration blocks," Chaturvedi said. "I believe only 11-12 blocks are pending for clearances now."