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Smell of gas wafts in from the Bay

Calcutta, Feb. 15: For the first time, Bengal may have struck luck with gas reserves.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is anticipating 5-10 million tonnes of in-place reserves of oil and oil equivalent gas in a block off the coast of Bengal.

An initial survey suggests the block is likely to be rich in gas, though there could be traces of oil, too. Drilling of four wells will start from the middle of March at a cost of Rs 600 crore.

Subir Raha, the chairman and managing director of ONGC, said the company was reasonably hopeful of finding oil and gas in the block (WB-ONN-2000/1). 'We have already invested Rs 175 crore for survey and data processing and interpretation. Over Rs 400 crore would be spent to drill the wells. Once the drilling is completed in the first well in four-six months, we will have a firm estimate,' he said today.

The block is located 70 kilometres southeast of the Sandheads. This is a shallow-water area with a water depth of 10-12 metres. The drill ship, which is now engaged in the Mahanadi area for Reliance, will drill to the depth of 4,000-5,000 metres under the seabed. Shallow water makes the drilling treacherous with silting and unexpected currents at the bottom.

ONGC is setting up a supply base station at Paradip to support the drilling operation. If and when the property reaches the development stage, a base station could be set up closer to the block. Crew could be flown from either Calcutta or Bhubaneswar to the location.

Despite huge expectations for decades of finding rich reserves of oil and gas, Bengal remains a dry state to this day. ONGC has carried out exploration in as many as 46 locations without success.

However, with the gigantic gas discovery in the Krishna-Godavari basin in offshore Andhra Pradesh and in offshore Mahanadi in Orissa, both in the Bay of Bengal, hopes for Bengal have been rekindled.

If ONGC strikes gas here, it would have a bearing on the economy of all of eastern region. From an energy deficient state, Bengal could well become a gas-rich region if gas flows from the block near Digha where Gail is working with Gazprom, the Russian company. ONGC and Gail also have a block off the coast of Myanmar, from where gas is proposed to be brought to Bengal through a pipeline over Bangladesh. Although the pipeline project is facing resistance from Dhaka, there exists the alternative of laying an undersea pipeline across the Bay of Bengal with landfall at Haldia.

Industry experts said the Bengal offshore find could qualify as a mid-size field. Usually, 25-40 per cent of the in-place reserves is recoverable for production. There are areas in the northeast region, especially in Assam, where oil and gas fields of such magnitude could be found. The Krishna-Godavari basin has in-place reserves of over 165 million tonnes.

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