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Sat, 20 December 2014 16:59:09
Sri Lanka conglomerate urges speedy oil search
11 Apr, 2008 16:54:03
April 11, 2008 (LBO) – Sri Lanka's Capital Maharaja Organisation, a big unlisted conglomerate, has earmarked a group of engineers for training in offshore petroleum skills but warns further delay in starting oil exploration could be costly.
"Our chances of finding oil or gas offshore are very, very real," said Nimal Cooke, executive director, projects of the Maharaja Organisation.

"But we're worried about the pace at which it is going."

Maharaja is one of the first Sri Lankan companies to position itself to benefit from an anticipated oil strike by striking a joint venture deal with Norwegian oil drilling firm Aker Kvaerner for future involvement in oil and gas exploration in the island.

The joint venture with Aker Kvaerner is to provide drilling equipment and other supplies required by the offshore oil industry, including training.

"We have short-listed 30 engineers for training in Norway," Cooke said.

The engineers will be trained from six months to one year working both on offshore oil rigs as well as ashore to get experience in commercial operations.

Cooke said doubts had arisen among those in the industry about whether the government is going to proceed with the bids it had received.

The government received bids in January from three firms, mainly regional players focusing on India and south Asia, for the exploration blocks last month. These were ONGC Videsh, Cairn India, and Niko Resources of Cyprus.

The government has said it expects to award the contracts by April 2008 and start the oil exploration process by August.

More bids had been expected but since only three had been received there was some talk of recalling tenders as the government feels there is not enough competition.

But Cooke warned that further delays in the already long-delayed exploration work could prove costly for the oil-importing island.

With India going to offer 50 blocks in May, oil companies might lose interest in Sri Lanka, he said.

"We might lose to India, it's going to be a damn sight more expensive later on and we might lose even the three who submitted bids," Cooke said.

Cooke said it costs about 500,000 dollars a day merely to lease an oil rig, apart from running costs.

Although there was heavy demand for oil drilling equipment because of a surge in exploration given record crude oil prices, equipment was available, but at a price.

"That's why we must give it now because prices are going higher. All costs are going up," Cooke said.

"Get the job off. We would like to see all three bidders get one block each.

"We have eight blocks earmarked for exploration and only tendered for three with five other blocks yet to be given. If you hit oil in one of the three, the other five become very important."

All three bidders for the blocks in the Manner Basin off the west coast have bid for the first block, while Cairn India and Niko Resources have bid for the second block. The third block has received only one bid from Nico Resources.

Cooke said Sri Lanka had been very bold in going to the market at a time when the government has just withdrawn from a ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers and the war was about to escalate.

"It was the saddest time to go to market for a project like this. But this is a commercial deal and most important for the country. It can change the whole balance of the economy completely."

Initial seismic surveys reveal definite incidence of oil or gas but until more detailed three-dimensional seismic surveys are done it was not possible to estimate the extent of the deposits.

Striking oil would be a major boost for the country which imports over two billion dollars worth of petroleum products a year.

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