India to offer BHP Billiton incentives to keep oil and gas blocks?

NEW DELHI, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- India is trying to convince mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. to stay invested in the country, and may offer a partnership with state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. as an incentive, an oil ministry official said.

Melbourne, Australia-based BHP announced its decision in October to relinquish nine of its 10 Indian oil and gas exploratory fields after it failed to secure clearance from the India's Defense Ministry. The exploration blocks were awarded between 2008 and 2010 under India's New Exploration and Licensing Policy, known as NELP.


"We are talking to them... We are trying to work out something that we can give them," Press Trust of India on Wednesday quoted the oil ministry official, Aranane Giridhar, Joint Secretary for Exploration, as telling reporters on the sidelines of the 12th Petro-India 2013 conference.

One option being considered, Giridhar said, is to allow Indian state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp, to buy a majority stake in the BHP blocks and for it to be responsible for obtaining the necessary approvals.

RELATED BHP Billiton scraps most of its Indian gas, oil exploration

"The idea is that they [BHP] retain 20 or 25 percent stake in the blocks," he said.

Press Trust reported Monday that Santos, Australia's third-largest oil and gas producer, also wants to exit its two oil and gas exploration blocks in the Bay of Bengal due to delays in getting approvals to start work. It cited defense restrictions and a maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh.


The blocks were awarded in 2007.

Giridhar defended the Indian Oil Ministry's role in foreign investment in the country.

"BHP left the country not because of the Oil Ministry. It left because of sacrosanct defense establishments that have to be protected," Giridhar said. "Santos left because of [a] maritime dispute with Bangladesh, not because of the Oil Ministry."

But the BHP and Santos pullouts, ahead of India's planned auction of 86 oil and gas exploration blocks in January under its 10th round of New Exploration Licensing Policy, is a setback for the Oil Ministry's effort to attract foreign investors to boost domestic production.

Speaking last week at the opening of the Eighth Asia Gas Partnership Summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh encouraged domestic and foreign companies to explore its onshore and offshore resources.

"I take this opportunity to assure investors of our government's commitment to providing a stable and enabling policy environment for exploration of new sources of energy," the prime minister said.

Other exits in India prompted by regulatory delays include: South Korean steelmaker Posco's plans to cancel a $5.3 billion steel mill project and Luxembourg-based steelmaker ArcelorMittal's decision to drop plans to build a second major steel plant in Odisha. Both those decisions were announced in July.


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