| Low tide
New Delhi, Feb. 7: The defence ministry has been slowing down the pace of offshore oil exploration by dilly-dallying on clearances for seismic surveys and creating hurdles at every stage of exploration and production.
The petroleum ministry has informed the Prime Minister about these “operational constraints” that have trammelled exploration and production in the hydrocarbons sector.
Sources disclose that the Indian Navy has to give clearances for any seismic survey to be undertaken in the offshore areas.
Although the Navy’s right to have a say in the matter cannot be questioned, the problem is that the process takes a good two to three months before the permission actually comes through.
When the survey ship has to visit the exploration block, fresh permission is required through the defence ministry which again leads to delays.
Similarly, at the next stage when the rigs have to move in for drilling operations, another clearance has to be given by the Navy. Problems arise as India lacks deep sea drilling technology and foreign vessels have to be hired for drilling operations.
The Navy does not want to leave anything to chance and often insists that an officer of the directorate general of hydrocarbons should be on board the ship.
Since the waiting period for getting clearances at various stages gets prolonged, business plans cannot be firmed up. The cost of hiring deep sea rigs is very high. The oil companies cannot afford to have them waiting around as the meter keeps ticking over and the cost of exploration shoots up.
Another problem is that the defence ministry has imposed restrictions on sending seismic data for processing abroad. However, foreign companies have been allowed to undertake oil exploration in the country and they want to use their own facilities to analyse the data.
The Navy’s contention is that this data about the Indian sea could be misused. The seismic surveys also highlight various “smog-like” areas which are formed due to the differences in the temperatures between various layers of the sea. These provide ideal hiding places for submarines. If the data falls into the wrong hands, enemy submarines could sneak in and hide at these places without being detected.