India eyes overseas oil market

Agence France Presse

New Delhi, January 30:

India, which along with China is projected to become a global powerhouse in the next two decades, has launched a massive hunt for foreign oil to keep fuelling its economic growth engine. Only 30 per cent of India’s oil needs are met from domestic sources and this is expected to halve as the country’s appetite for energy to meet expansion keeps growing.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh told an oil industry conference this month energy needs would have to be met ‘through intensification of domestic exploration while simultaneously accessing overseas opportunities.’

The overseas arm of state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has already invested 2.5 billion dollars in Russia’s Sakhalin-I project, gasfields in Iran, Vietnam, Sudan and a clutch of other countries. It is now looking to invest at least three billion dollars more buying stakes in oil and gasfields in several other nations including Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bangladesh, Yemen, Qatar and Ecuador.

“Energy is an essential input for development and since we don’t possess energy resources, particularly of the fossil fuel nature, we have to go out of India to secure these resources,” Petroleum Secretary S C Tripathi said.

India’s oil import bill swelled 58 per cent to Rs 611.7 billion ($14 billion) during the first six months of the current financial year ending March 2005 from Rs 386.6 billion a year earlier.

New Delhi was rudely jolted into action after a surge in global oil prices fuelled a rise in the inflation rate to three-and-a-half year highs in the last half of 2004.

Its keen desire to avoid a repeat was evident this month when it hosted the first Asian oil buyer-seller ministers’ meeting, bringing together top Middle East producers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran with buyers such as China, Japan and India.

India’s oil minister Mani Shankar Aiyar called for an Asian oil market in which players would enter into long-term contracts and invest in each other’s oil sectors to escape oil price volatility and ensure stable supplies. India’s oil diplomacy with the Middle East paid off when earlier this month it reached agreement with Iran to buy 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year over 25 years. The oil ministry is also pushing for a deal for a gas pipeline from Iran passing through neighbouring Pakistan.