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INDIA CEO SERIES: Oil India sees time ripe for upstream sector to bask in glow of high oil prices

Highlights

Discussions underway with global firms for joint offer submissions in OLAP

India's yet-to-find upstream resources hold a lot of promise

Solar, wind and biofuels will be part of Oil India's growth roadmap

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The S&P Global Commodity Insights India CEO Series is a compilation of exclusive interviews by Asia Energy Editor Sambit Mohanty with top government and industry leaders in India's oil and gas sector. Get insights on how those companies are planning to strike a balance between traditional and new businesses at a time when energy transition is changing the industry's landscape, while geopolitical turbulence is throwing up new challenges.

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State-run Oil India Ltd. is in talks with global oil companies to tap their expertise for upstream projects and grow its exploration acreages multi-fold as high prices whet appetite for upstream investment, its chairman and managing director Ranjit Rath told S&P Global Commodity Insights in an exclusive interview.

Highlighting that India now offers a promising upstream opportunity to global investors, Rath said the signs are already visible as many global oil majors -- such as TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, Equinor and Baker Hughes -- are presently in discussions with state-owned upstream players.

"Oil India has already reached out to select international oil companies for collaboration in the upstream segment of the hydrocarbon value chain in India," Rath said.

"Discussions are underway for farm-in opportunities and submission of joint offer in Open Acreage Licensing Policy -- which is the OLAP IX bidding round -- primarily for offshore blocks to ensure synergy gains through the adoption of advance technological interventions and joint exploration campaigns. Concurrently, we are also in the process of securing exploratory drilling service providers to undertake offshore drilling activities," Rath added.

Oil India contributes about 10% of India's domestic crude oil production and 8.5% of natural gas output from its operated domestic fields.

He added that about Rupee 200 billion ($2.44 billion) has been set aside for capital expenditure until fiscal year 2025-26 (April-March) to meet the company's targets under exploratory and development efforts and infrastructure development, including overseas investments in existing blocks.

"The latest reassessment of hydrocarbon resources had indicated a 49% increase in prognosticated resource to current 41.9 billion mt of estimated oil and oil equivalent of gas, with yet-to-find resources of 29.8 billion mt of estimated oil and oil equivalent of gas. This is providing a boost to the Indian upstream industry. About 80% of yet-to-find resources are in Category I basins," Rath said.

Untapped potential

He said that in order to enhance exploration opportunities in India for the yet-to-be discovered volumes, Oil India has expanded domestic acreages by actively participating in various bidding rounds under the country's OLAP. Oil India's operating domestic acreage has grown roughly sevenfold to 62,923 sq km from 9,302 sq km in FY 2017-18 (April-March).

"Seismic acquisition has been completed in nearly all OALP blocks awarded until Round V and several prospects have also been identified. Oil India has already commenced exploratory drilling campaigns in Assam Shelf, Rajasthan Basin and Mahanadi Basin," Rath said.

"In the next 10 years, exploration activity will be dominating the industry, leading to future oil and gas discoveries and keeping India's E&P sector on a growth trajectory," he added.

India's government recently released around 99% of the 'no-go' areas in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone for E&P operations covering a total area of 1 million sq km offshore areas in west coast, east coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to provide a boost to the oil and gas exploration, Rath said.

"Oil India is currently evaluating to submit offers under the mega offshore OALP IX bidding round, in which about 26 blocks are under offer," Rath added.

Rath said Oil India had carried out a detailed review of its operated fields to identify thrust areas for possible production enhancement in the short to medium term at four fields in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and one field in Rajasthan. It is envisaged that with accelerated development efforts by drilling and workover in these thrust areas, the company can achieve output of more than four million mt of oil and 5.0 Bcm of gas by FY 2024-25.

Oil India is undertaking various interventions such as drilling of a total of 150 wells -- 75 each year -- over the next two years across India. Additionally, exploration opportunities in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are being identified that can be put on production immediately after discovery, Rath said.

New energy initiatives

Oil India made a foray into the renewable energy domain in 2012 with the commissioning of the Wind Energy Power Project in Rajasthan. It has since established 188.1 MW of renewable energy -- 174.1 MW of wind and 14 MW of solar -- in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

"All renewable energy projects have been successfully connected to the power grid of the respective states," Rath said.

Oil India has also sealed an agreement with Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited to form a JV for collaborative initiatives in the field of green energy, especially solar, beginning with a 25 MW solar power project.

The company has also entered into an agreement with the Himachal Pradesh state government for the establishment of alternate energy projects in the fields of solar energy, green hydrogen, geothermal and compressed biogas.

"Additionally, Oil India has also undertaken projects to help develop hydrogen-based infrastructure in the country. The projects are hydrogen fuel cell e-bus developed through its start-up program and the development of Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier for hydrogen storage and transportation," Rath said.

As part of the national biofuels policy, Oil India, through its subsidiary NRL, is implementing a bio-refinery project for the production of 2G Ethanol from non-food grade feedstock. NRL will hold 50% stake in Assam Bio Refinery Projects Ltd., with Fortum 3 BV and Chempolis Oy holding the remaining 50%, Rath said.

More from the series:

IOC's refining expansion landscape will reflect a shade of green

India's crude strategy a cushion for both global, domestic prices, says Puri