• India may offer opportunities for Houston’s oil services companies

    Some Houston companies are poised to benefit as India begins doling out $27 billion in new contracts in an effort to cut fuel imports. Spending plans are ratcheting up and projects are restarting after the government in March announced pricing freedom for natural gas from deep-sea fields that begin production this year. Coming as the cost of rigs and services has halved, that’s prompted India’s largest explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp. to launch its biggest development campaign yet. Reliance Industries Ltd. is preparing to restart work at four offshore oil and gas blocks.

    The flurry of activity is providing some respite to services companies, including Houston-based Schlumberger and Halliburton, and Technip, whose U.S. headquarters are here. Service firms were stung last year when explorers slashed more than $100 billion in spending as oil collapsed. Investments in India are growing to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of cutting import dependence by 10 percent over six years as increased consumption puts the nation on track to become the world’s third-largest oil consumer.

    “In India, there are two to three major identified projects and they are probably bigger than anything else going on in rest of the world,” Technip India’s Managing Director Bhaskar Patel said in an interview. “India is a place where there is work available.” India’s hydrocarbon resources still remain highly undeveloped and the government’s new liberal approach is nudging companies to invest in tapping them. The measures are expected to boost gas output by 35 million standard cubic meters a day and unshackle projects worth 1.8 trillion rupees ($27 billion), Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said when the policy changes were announced.

    About 90 percent of the new spending would go to companies that provide services from drilling to testing and the laying of infrastructure. Halliburton is positioned to participate in “the country’s ambitious plans to increase its domestic production,” the company said in an emailed response to questions. “India plays a crucial role for sustained development in the region for Halliburton.” The Indian government’s initiatives will increase the pace of exploration, ONGC Chairman Dinesh Kumar Sarraf said.

    ONGC will contract deepwater drill ships and dozens of jack-up rigs for a $5 billion development program in the Krishna-Godavari Basin, he said. The company intends to spend 11 trillion rupees by 2030 to raise output. Reliance has held meetings with oilfield-services companies to restart work at four offshore oil and gas blocks, including one of India’s biggest natural gas discoveries, people with knowledge of the plan said in May. It plans to drill 21 wells in four offshore areas, including the deepwater KG-D6 block in the Bay of Bengal, the people said.

    India’s exploration binge still won’t be enough to compensate for canceled projects around the world as oil prices settle below 50-a-barrel of crude from more than $100 two years ago. Worldwide, the oil and gas industry will cut $1 trillion from planned spending on exploration and development because of the price slump, consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said this month. Investing during the current down-cycle ensures lower costs for explorers as well as future returns over four or five years once oil recovers, Technip India’s Patel said.

    ONGC has reduced the cost of its Krishna-Godavari basin block by almost a third from earlier estimates of about $7 billion as prices slide for the contract rate for rigs and oilfield equipment and services. Offshore jack-up rigs, which used to cost $80,000 to $90,000 a day, are now available for less than $50,000, ONGC’s Sarraf said. “We could say there is 20 percent to 50 percent reduction in the cost of goods and services.”

    Despite the price competition, service providers are finding that an India strategy is critical given the scarcity of spending elsewhere. Finnish company Wartsila OYJ’s Indian unit sees opportunity here given the tough global environment. “In the exploration segments, if projects are coming up of course it’s an opportunity for us,” Kimmo Kohtamaki, president and managing director of Wartsila India, said. “We have matching products and no one else is investing. Everyone is laying off, it’s a tough market.” Fred Lynn Jersey

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