Centre mulls 2 yr moratorium on offshore drilling

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Hyderabad, Jan 14 (UNI) The Centre is 'actively considering' granting moratorium on exploration of crude oil off the Indian coast in the wake of phenomenal increase in offshore drilling cost, according to Union Petroleum Secretary M S Srinivasan.

The decision on ''drill holiday'', which required approval of the Union Cabinet, is likely to be taken within a fortnight, Mr Srinivasan told newspersons on the sidelines of the seventh International Conference and Exposition on Petroleum Geophysics, which began here today.

Public sector oil major Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) and a few private players, including Reliance, had petitioned the Union Petroleum Ministry to extend, by at least two years, the deadline for drilling in the Indian offshore for the 'blocks' granted to them under the New Exploration Policy (NEP), due to the ''non-availability'' of deepwater rigs.

ONGC, which holds 58 per cent of the (offshore) acreage under the NEP, had written to the Centre to grant moratorium on drilling for at least two years.

ONGC Chairman and Managing Director R C Sharma said the Centre had ''agreed in principle'' to its plea because of non-availability of ultradeep well rigs. ''It is 'force majeure', but will need the approval of the Union Cabinet under the NEP.'' The ONGC was also working for constituting a consortium with private sector players like Reliance for contracting rigs for ultra deep well drilling off Indian Coast, he added.

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