Himalayan News Service

London, January 23:

India’s petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has exhorted British oil and gas firms to invest in South Asia, if necessary by pulling out of the North Sea.

At a conference here to promote the auction of 20 new Indian oil and gas licences, Aiyar said the potential in South Asia was similar to that during the 19th-century American gold rush.

“Output in the North Sea has declined 60 per cent in a decade, yet an enormous amount of technology and enterprise is employed there,” Mani Shankar Aiyar said.

Companies have drilled 33 billion barrels of oil from the region since the 1970s, with remaining estimates ranging from 15-30 billion barrels. The minister’s statements were supported by Cairn Energy, the Edinburgh-based firm which has entered the FTSE 100 on the back of oil finds in north-west India. The minister said, “If a small Scottish company Cairn can find oil where larger firms have failed, India could be transformed from having hydrocarbon potential to being hydrocarbon rich.” Aiyar promised that the timetable of the licences auction would be as free as possible from red tape. Bids are due at the end of May, licences

would be awarded at the end of July and contracts signed by October 2 — the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Aiyar was delivering the keynote address at the second of five promotional roadshows from New Delhi to Calgary. India has been keen to attract international players to drill untapped oil and gas reserves in the country and is expected to raise billions of dollars. John Crawford, of international business promoter UK trade and investment, said total energy usage in India would double by 2020, making domestic oil and gas vital for future economic growth.

Soaring demand from India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, is widely said to be the chief cause of the recent high oil price.

Neil Piggot, head of new global ventures at BP, said afterwards that he had been impressed by what he had heard.

“BP has no history in the area, so we’re really here to learn.”