Oil India resumes Andaman offshore survey after almost 3 decades

Battling blowout at a natural gas well near its “home” in eastern Assam, Oil India Limited (OIL) has resumed its operations off the Andaman Islands after almost three decades.

OIL, headquartered in Dibrugarh district’s Duliajan, last handled any exploration and production activity off the islands in the Bay of Bengal in the 1980s. The public sector ‘Navaratna’ company resumed its seismic survey in its Andaman offshore blocks on October 8.

Seismic survey usually precedes all oil and gas exploration activity.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, India’s largest exploration company, had drilled six wells off the Andaman shores during the 2013-14 fiscal without commercial success or production.

“After 2014, we are the only company to venture into the Andaman waters for exploration activities. But while ONGC were in deep waters, we are getting into shallow waters with a sophisticated multipurpose data acquisition vessel,” an OIL spokesperson said.

He added that oil exploration “will be in logistically and geologically-challenging areas” as most of the prolific category A areas have been explored.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had awarded 32 blocks under the Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) through two rounds of bidding in January and February, 2019. OIL won bids for 12 blocks, including two covering an area of 9,616.7 sq km in shallow waters off the shores of Andaman Islands.

“We have drawn up plans to intensify our exploration efforts in the country and increase exploration capital expenditures in the coming years,” OIL Chairman and Managing Director Sushil Chandra Mishra said.

Among the projects is data acquisition in Mahanadi on-land blocks in Odisha that would be started soon, followed by exploration drilling campaign in its OALP blocks from the 2021-22 fiscal.

OIL expects to drill 66 wells across its OALP blocks within the next four years, officials said.

Killing operation on

For OIL, the efforts to “kill” the blowout well at Baghjan in Tinsukia district continue. ‘Killing’ means injecting a viscous cement fluid into the affected well at great speed in order to prevent natural gas from coming out.

On September 13, foreign and OIL’s experts tamed the flame atop Well No. 5 by diverting the gas outflow to flare pits. The well had a blowout on May 27 and burst into flames on June 9.

The gas diversion technique is temporary.

OIL has also been in a legal tangle over the permission it was granted to drill for oil and natural gas in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park close to the Baghjan blowout well. On May 11, the Centre gave OIL environmental clearance for extended drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations within the 340 sq km park, a biosphere reserve known for its feral horses and avifauna.

The hearing of the case at Gauhati High Court is on October 20.

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