ONGC firms up plans to explore Contai block

Shirish Nadkarni
OGJ Correspondent

MUMBAI, July 25 -- After a lull of more than a year, India's state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) has firmed up plans to resume exploration at Contai in West Bengal.

The company received the exploration block in 1997 during the first round of bidding under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP-I). It recently cleared plans for drilling one exploratory well in the block on the Bay of Bengal coast in Midnapore district. Previous drilling in the block tested negative.

This may be the company's last attempt to explore the Bengal coast before the Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons forces it to relinquish the block. ONGC has already given up one block in the state.

However, the pace of exploratory drilling has picked up in the Mahanadi basin off the coast of Orissa, where the company has struck gas twice in the last 6 months.

After successfully drilling the MN-DWN-98/3 deepwater block and MN-OSN-2000/2 in shallow water, ONGC has embarked on a drilling campaign in the MN-OSN-97/3 offshore block.

The first well drilled in the 50-60 m water of that block tested negative and was abandoned in June after targeting an object at 1,200 m. Drilling of the second well by the Transocean Nordic began in mid-July.

"Depending on the data gathered during the drilling of the first well, coupled with the seismic data, we have now decided to drill a deeper object at around 2,200 m below the sea bed," said a company official.

ONGC holds 85% operating interest in the 4,065 sq km MN-OSN-97/3 block. Another public company, GAIL India Ltd., holds the other 15%.

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