Energiser for shale drill

The oil ministry has come out with a plan to change the definition of "petroleum" to enable oil and gas exploration firms such as Essar and RIL to explore shale reserves in the country, which could substantially boost energy security.

By R. Suryamurthy
  • Published 28.05.18
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New Delhi: The oil ministry has come out with a plan to change the definition of "petroleum" to enable oil and gas exploration firms such as Essar and RIL to explore shale reserves in the country, which could substantially boost energy security.

In 2013, India unveiled a policy for the exploitation of shale reserves by state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corporation and Oil India, but private companies are still not allowed to explore the gas.

The government is keen to give private players a level-playing field to exploit the potential of shale in their blocks.

The oil ministry, in this context, is planning a short-cut by changing the definition of petroleum, according to officials.

The ministry has come out with a draft notification on the definition which reads, "Petroleum means naturally occurring hydrocarbons, which in the form of natural gas or in a liquid or solid form, or a mixture thereof, however, will not include helium occurring in association with petroleum or coal or shale."

It has asked stakeholders and the public to give their comments by June 8.

The existing rule governing conventional oil, gas and coal bed methane fields explicitly excludes shale reserves from what constitutes petroleum.

The draft notification is an attempt to amend the existing definition under clause (k) of Rule 3 of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Rules 1959.

Essar Oil has made a preliminary assessment of the original in-place shale gas resources of about 7.7 trillion cubic feet below its coal bed methane field in Raniganj, Bengal. With about 20 per cent estimated recovery, the shale reserve could double the output from Essar's Raniganj block having recoverable reserves of 1.1 trillion cubic feet of coal bed methane.

Shale extraction uses hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals underground to release trapped oil and gas.

India has 300-2,100 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources, the oil ministry said in its 2016-17 annual report, citing estimates by Schlumberger. According to available data, six basins - Cambay (Gujarat), Assam-Arakan (Northeast), Gondawana (central India), KG onshore (Andhra Pradesh), Cauvery onshore and Indo-Gangetic basins - have shale gas potential.

Allowing private companies the freedom to exploit shale will throw up possibilities of new sources of natural gas in the country, which is increasingly adopting this cleaner fossil fuel.

Fuel of choice

Shale gas, or natural gas trapped in sedimentary rocks (shale formations) below the earth's surface, is the new focus area in the US, Canada and China as an alternative to conventional oil and gas.The unconventional gas has proven to be a game-changer in the US energy market.