India hopes to attract investments of around $3 billion in exploration of oil and gas in blocks offered under the seventh round of the New Exploration Licensing Policy (Nelp VII), for which 181 bids were received from 99 companies, the most under any auction.
Of the 57 blocks on offer, 12 blocks did not receive any bids. These were recycled blocks, or blocks which were offered in previous Nelp rounds and had not found any bidder.
Global majors such as BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, and British Petroleum, the third largest oil company in the world, bid for blocks for the first time. British Gas, which won a block in Nelp VI, also bid. Nine global companies, which had not participated in previous Nelp rounds, bid under this round.
"The number of bids has been the highest. The auction has been successful," said VK Sibal, the head of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, the government agency which oversees the Nelp auctions. The blocks are likely to be awarded by August 31 this year, said Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dinsha Patel.
BHP Billiton bid for seven deepwater blocks in a consortium with infrastructure company GVK and has provisionally won all the bids. British Petroleum bid for two blocks in a consortium with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), India's largest oil producer, and for one block with Reliance Industries, which operates the world's third-largest refinery in Gujarat.
However, ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company which had bought geological data for the blocks, abstained from bidding.
Almost 60 per cent of the bids 106 of the total 181 were in small blocks, called S-Type blocks. Companies bidding for these blocks do not need to have the technical capability or experience in oil and gas exploration to bid. "It is a good sign as many non-oil companies now get the chance to enter the sector," Sibal said.
The bids were received in spite of the finance ministry withdrawing a crucial income tax holiday on gas production. "The investors were looking for clarity on the tax situation, and we clarified that income tax on oil production would continue, while that for gas production would not," said AK Jain, joint secretary (exploration), in the petroleum ministry.
India is looking to attract global oil companies such as Exxon, Chevron and Shell to bid for blocks in the country as it strives towards energy security. The country, the third largest consumer of oil in Asia, imports almost 78 per cent of its crude oil requirement.
It is looking to boost domestic oil production and reduce imports, even as its import price rose to an all-time high of $136.66 per barrel on Friday, the latest day for which data are available.