ISRO to shift satellite launch boundary for oil exploration by Cairn India, Tata, ONGC

Dec 26 2013, 08:33 IST
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SummarySite in prohibited zone has best chance of petroleum system, says Cairn India.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would be shifting the northern boundary of its satellite launch range at Sriharikota to allow a consortium of

Cairn India Ltd, Tata and Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) to explore oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal.

The Department of Space (DoS) wrote to the petroleum ministry on Tuesday that ISRO would shift the boundary of the “prohibited zone” seven kilometers south to permit exploration drilling by operator Cairn which claims that a site in the zone has “best chance of establishing petroleum system”.

The consortium has put in $31 million in exploring block PR-0SN-2004/1 in Palar basin and has stopped “effective exploration” in last two years as DoS refused to give drilling permission as the site was within 10-km radius of Satish Dhawan Space Centre — a strategic zone in terms of national security.

Citing grounds of safety and security, the DoS had maintained for years that there was a vulnerability of radio frequency interference as well as the risk of space debris falling on any installations that come up for exploration. But following the Prime Minister’s Office intervention, it set out conditions for coexistence.

The DoS said in March 2012 that coastal security of the centre must be ensured and there should not be radio frequency interference in its operations. It also wanted that ISRO not to be made liable for any loss due to falling debris and that all ships and rigs should be vacated whenever a notice for a launch was issued.

Cairn found it impossible to conduct operations within these conditions and sought “unrestricted access”. In June 2012, it asked for a shift of the northern boundary seven kilometers south. This was denied by DoS a year later saying that the “prohibited area cannot be modified as it is derived based on the rocket launch criteria”.

The petroleum ministry then approached the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure to resolve the imbroglio as Palar offshore was a new zone for exploration and production (E&P) and held “huge potential” to attract investors in the future.

It also raised the investor-friendliness pitch, saying that a denial of permission could lead to litigation and an adverse impact on investment environment in the future.

“It may also influence exodus of foreign E&P companies from India and a loss of credibility for the Indian government,” it said.

It found support in finance ministry which said that

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