Cairn India | News Article: The Hindu - ‘Our interest in gas is re-emerging’
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‘Our interest in gas is re-emerging’
Private sector oil and gas explorer Cairn India, which accounts for about 25 per cent of India’s oil production,
has embarked on a $3 billion capex plan involving an aggressive exploration and appraisal programme. In this
interview with The Hindu, Chief Executive Officer P. Elango (51), a 26-year veteran of the oil and gas sector,
discusses the company’s growth plans and says that he is not averse to acquisitions of companies that have
both exploration and production potential.
You’re coming off an excellent second quarter. How much of it was driven by high oil prices
combined with a depreciating rupee?
Yes, strong crude oil prices and rupee depreciation did help us but we were able to show an overall increase
in production f rom all the three f ields.
Ultimately, everything is driven by volumes f or us, and on the volumes f ront, we had an excellent quarter.
We began this journey of producing oil almost 20 years back with just 3,000 barrels f rom the Ravva f ield.
From that to a record 2,13,000 barrels of oil per day (bopd) in the last quarter is a remarkable thing f or us.
And, we are hoping to exit this f inancial year with 2,25,000 bopd. We have been able to consistently deliver
on volume growth in both oil and gas f rom all the three f ields.
We are now engaged in a ‘high-risk-high-value’ exploration programme in Ravva. To be able to explore again
in a 17-year-old f ield just goes to show that as technology changes, we can take a re-look at old data to
produce more oil and gas.
You are sitting on a cash pile of over $3 billion, and you have spoken of your desire to grow
through organic and inorganic means. Are you in the hunt for acquisitions?
We are extremely happy to be sitting on such cash, and in our business, it is all about generating surpluses
only to reinvest. Our f irst priority is Rajasthan. And, this cash pile gives us tremendous f lexibility to invest
T he challenges in Rajasthan are that we were not allowed to continue exploration in a producing f ield as
per the interpretation of the Production Sharing Contract.
T here was a breakthrough in February 2013 when the government allowed us to explore in a producing
f ield. We then started exploring the Barmer basin; we drilled 6 wells. In f our of which, we encountered
oil/gas. We made one discovery f or which we have f iled f or commerciality. Initial indications are good.
So, the f irst priority is to deploy the capital required in f urthering our business in Rajasthan and other
Indian blocks f or which we are looking at a $3 billion investment over the next 3 years. Eighty per cent of
this investment will be in Rajasthan. T he second option is looking f or growth outside India, both organic
and inorganic. We’ve made a small beginning in Sri Lanka and South Af rica on the organic side. We will look
at inorganic opportunities too though not in the immediate f uture.
On the inorganic side, would you be looking at acquiring blocks or companies?
It will be companies that have both exploration and production potential. We are not weighing any options
right now though.
What will be the impact on your business when the Barmer-Salaya pipeline extension to Bhogat is
First, we always wanted the Rajasthan crude to not be land-locked. A crude oil f ield has to have a coastal
f ace if it has to get the real value.
Secondly, we want to diversif y our source of buyers to ensure that there is healthy competitive pressure to
get right value f or the crude. T hough purely on the volume perspective, our three current buyers can take all
the volume we produce. We want to ensure that we have more sources that can get access to this f ield.
T he Government would also like to allocate this crude to some of the coastal ref ineries in the country such
as MRPL, HPCL etc.
Meanwhile, we have been toying with the idea of swap agreement. We are presenting this case not only as
a company but country as a whole. India imports $150 billion worth of crude oil.
All the domestically produced crude oil is being used by the domestic ref ineries. But in each type of crude
oil, you can extract dif f erent value f or it. So, such crude oil should go where maximum value can be
extracted. In the case of Indian ref ineries, some of them were designed to handle domestically produced
crude oil only, and they have been conf igured to process the cheapest crude oil available.
Can you elaborate on the swap agreement you proposed?
It will be a tripartite agreement between our Rajasthan JV, a government chosen public sector ref inery (in
this case, IOC) as a canalising agency, and a third party who would be able to supply the necessary crude
oil required in the domestic market. We can get into swap agreement under which some volume of our
Barmer crude oil goes to the international market where it can get better price. T he third party gets access
to low-sulphur crude and can sell it at a premium in the international market, while the equivalent quantum
of crude oil could be imported through the third party. On a pilot basis, we have proposed this, and this will
not involve reducing volume to any of our current buyers. Ultimate platf orm to test the value of the crude
oil is international market.
In this deal, there is additional premium Barmer crude will get and that would be shared with IOC. T he f irst
priority is to f ind whether there are buyers who can pay higher price. In a normal case, it will be a direct
export but it is not allowed by the government. Since India continues to be an importer of oil, this swap deal
will benef it the country as a whole. So, it will be benef icial to the government even if it f etches a dollar
What are your plans for the KG Basin shallow waters block?
We’ve been in the east cost since 1994, and the Ravva f ield has produced more than 250 million barrels of
oil over the last 18 years.
So f ar, we’ve been producing f rom the younger rocks but there is a layer of older rock deeper than this.
T hese rocks are known f or high pressure and temperature.
We studied this prospect, and have f ound the data interesting enough to drill an exploration well. T his one
well will cost the joint venture about Rs.400 crore. Depending on the results, we may choose to drill one
Second, we did a 4D seismic survey in Ravva to see how much of the oil has been produced. It showed us
some bypassed oil in the f ield. We quantif ied the bypassed oil, and have now decided that in the current
environment, it is economical to target this. We’ve got the required government approvals.
T he interesting part is that the Ravva f ield will again see drilling activity f or the next 6-7 months at least.
Meanwhile, we’ve got the Def ence clearance f or the KG 0S-9 block where we can work on 65 per cent of
the area. It is owned by us f ully, and we’ll be investing about Rs.500 crore in the block over the next 2-3
years. We also have the Nagayalanka onshore block in AP where we initially discovered oil and gas but to
get it out we need to f ollow processes similar to producing shale gas. We will be drilling a well now af ter
which we hope to f ile declaration of commerciality bef ore the end of this f inancial year.
What is your take on gas pricing?
Our interest in gas is re-emerging. In Rajasthan, af ter our initial exploration, we f ound some good gas
prospects. We had also discovered some volume, and that was directed to internal consumption. Af ter
seeing the survey results, we thought we will be able f ind out gas resources, and started commercialising
our f ield in March 2013 supplying to a f ertilizer company in Gujarat using the existing pipeline.
Now potential f or gas is emerging. We were keen it should get right price and in this context, the
recommendations of Rangarajan Committee is a good step f orward as it is important f or the government
to move towards market-determined prices. People in India don’t realize the huge benef its of using gas in
the place of oil. If India is able to import same quantum of molecules in the f orm of gas instead of oil, it will
result in savings of 30-35 per cent in import bill, i.e., 30-35 per cent savings on $150 billion is a quite a large