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Space fight over oil exploration

New Delhi, Dec. 23: The government wants the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to give up 7 km of its test range in the Bay of Bengal to allow a consortium of Cairn, Tata and ONGC to explore gas.

Seismic surveys have identified the area as “highly promising”.

The block — PR-0SN-2004/1— is located in the Palar basin along the east coast of Chennai and to the north-east of Sriharikota space station at a depth of 400 metres.

The cabinet committee on infrastructure (CCI) will meet to resolve a spat involving Isro and the operators of the block, which overlaps a “prohibited zone” in the ocean where Isro says its rocket debris may fall.

The issue has seen the finance and petroleum ministries joining hands against the department of space with the Prime Minister’s Office trying to play the arbitrator.

The department of space has set out four conditions for co-existence — firstly, the coastal security of the Sriharikota space centre must be ensured; second, there should not be radio frequency interference of its operations.

Besides, Isro cannot be held responsible for any debris falling on exploring vessels; finally, all ships and rigs have to be vacated whenever a notice for a rocket launch is issued.

However, the consortium in which Cairn and ONGC have a 35 per cent stake each and Tata Petrodyne has 30 per cent equity holding, wrote back saying that restricted access and falling debris would make it impossible to explore or drill for oil and gas.

The petroleum ministry has now asked the department of space to realign Isro’s rocket launch so that the test range moves south by 7 km.

Officials said the CCI may have to intervene.

The finance ministry has pointed out that consortium members, which have already put in around $30 million, have stopped further investments. They will be liable to pay damages to the government if they do not finish exploration. On the other hand, they can sue the government because of their inability to complete work.

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