The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Oil hunters fight shy of Nagaland

New Delhi, May 24: Although an oil exploration block in Nagaland has been included in the list of 24 blocks that are being offered under the latest round for international competitive bidding, there are not likely to be any takers as even ONGC and Oil India are hesitant to enter the state.

A senior ONGC official told The Telegraph that “it would not be wise on our part to send our men into the field as the political situation is still volatile in the state. We are still following a policy of wait and watch as far as Nagaland is concerned.”

While the petroleum ministry is putting up the block for international competitive bidding it is highly unlikely that any foreign company is going to bid for the block. Under the present circumstances even ONGC and OIL will have to be forced to take up exploration work as they are public sector companies.

In fact, no oil exploration or production work has been carried out in Nagaland since 1994 when insurgent elements attacked ONGC installations. Most of the equipment at the ONGC drilling sites is reported to have been vandalised.

Since oil exploration sites are always located in remote areas, oil company personnel engaged in drilling operations are highly vulnerable. There is also a lot of commuting that is involved as data has to be analysed at the headquarters and senior officials have to make trips to and fro through wild jungle terrain.

Senior ONGC officials have been kidnapped in the north-east in the past and this fear would always be lurking in their minds. Insurgent elements are well aware of the wide publicity that such acts attract and are therefore ever willing to strike. “It is difficult to give your best under such circumstances,” a senior ONGC official said.

The recent grenade attack on the Digboi refinery in Assam is another reminder that militants are getting more emboldened and are also using heavier weaponry.

The earlier militant attacks in the north-east states have been on oil pipelines which run through remote areas and are difficult to safeguard because of the sheer length involved. Conversely, these are easier to attack.

Although the Centre has stepped up its efforts to bring the outlawed Naga groups into the mainstream, the strong reaction of the hostile factions within the state has put a spanner in the works. It is this factor that is worrying the oil companies.

Senior oil company officials are of the view that the government should first normalise the situation and then think of the undertaking oil exploration work. “There is no point in putting the cart before the horse,” a senior official said.

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