The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Whiff of gas after 40 years of burning hope

Calcutta, Jan. 29: After decades of high optimism followed by deep despair, the first indication of the presence of gas in Bengal has appeared at a place near Contai, around 150 km from Calcutta close to the coast.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has obtained “adequate indications” of gas at a depth of a little over 3,300 metres after 117 days of drilling at Gobindapur.

ONGC sources said: “This is the first time the indications are quite positive and now the feasibility of the project is being tested. ONGC has sunk over Rs 3,000 crore in exploration in the last four decades without any luck.”

Its chairman, Subir Raha, confirmed that the drilling is complete and testing is in progress to ascertain the feasibility of commercial production.

Asked about the chances of going commercial, Raha replied: “Had there not been any indications, we wouldn’t have sunk our funds.”

The government-run largest profit-making company of the country has already invested over Rs 25 crore in Gobindapur block. It is prepared to pump whatever more is required into the project once commercial feasibility is established, he said.

Raha pointed out that the testing would be completed in two to three weeks, furnishing data about the cost of recovery of gas from the area and the quantity available.

Sources said that based on available data, the chance of commercial viability is “50-50”.

The company started drilling at Gobindapur on September 28, returning to Bengal after a gap of around five years and completed work in a record 117 days compared with the stipulated 205 days.

Raha is also hopeful about the availability of hydrocarbons in the Sunderbans offshore project where ONGC has invested Rs 135 crore in exploration.

Another Rs 400 crore will be spent to dig four wells at the site. The first tender ONGC floated for drilling drew no response and it went in for re-tendering sometime ago.

Raha said five parties had shown interest in drilling and the selection would be done by February.

“After the selection, about six months is needed for mobilisation of rig and other equipment as well as technicians. Hence, drilling is expected to start some time after the next monsoon,” he said.

ONGC has appointed a foreign consultant for the Sunderbans project to get a second opinion about the feasibility of making the next tranche of investment.

The Sunderbans project presents the problem of lack of depth to bring in an exploratory ship.

The depth varies widely between tide and ebb, which has led to the company using a modern technique called ocean bottom cable for exploration.

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