Bay of Bengal hydrocarbon reserve mapping hobbles

Originally posted in The Financial Express on 09 January 2022

A much-need seismic survey to assess hydrocarbon deposits in the Bay of Bengal hobbles seemingly for the contractor’s apathy, thus delaying exploration and extraction of potential fuels.

A Norwegian-US joint venture, TGS-Schlumberger, blames the stalemate on lack of interest of potential international oil companies (IOCs) in buying survey data, a senior Petrobangla official told the FE on Saturday.

Earlier, it did an internal survey to find potential IOCs who would be interested to purchase multi-client seismic data on completion of the survey, he says.

As agreed, the contractor will not receive payments for its seismic work from the state-run Petrobangla. But they are allowed to sell data to the interested IOCs to recover their investment with profits.

The JV surveyor will also have to share the seismic data and the profits with Petrobangla, as per the deal.

The duo now fears that their $20-million investment may get mired if IOCs do not come up to purchase survey data, according to insiders.

The contractor is also mandated to surrender $500,000 bank guarantee in case of dereliction of the survey.

As part of its preparation to do survey, the contractor has already completed environmental impact assessment (EIA) and attained an environmental clearance certificate.

It has up to March 2023 to complete the survey as the spadework for exploration of oil and gas in the bay waters.

Surveying the entire offshore blocks by the deadline seems ‘almost impossible’ as the contractor has yet to initiate the physical survey, according to sources.

The government moved to do a multi-client survey over half a decade ago to lure potential IOCs into the next bid with an eye to exploring untapped offshore blocks.

Energy ministry earlier had deferred a plan to announce a fresh offshore bidding round in March 2020 in view of the spread of coronavirus globally.

Officials say the TGS-Schlumberger duo was selected for the job twice following two separate competitive biddings floated back in 2015.

The initial bid in early 2015 was cancelled but the subsequent bidding in late 2015 was held up over the past three and a half years.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs finally approved awarding TGS-Schlumberger the job in April 2019.

But the pandemic and the subsequent record fall in oil and energy prices on the international market, however, discouraged the contractor from initiating the survey.

The Norwegian seismic specialist, TGS, and oilfield service-provider Schlumberger are currently involved in a similar project in the US Gulf of Mexico.

The JV is expected to survey 21 offshore hydrocarbon blocks within the sovereign territory of Bangladesh.

The blocks cover 81,000 square kilometres with depths ranging between 20 and 2,500 metres in the Bay.

Petrobangla planned to supply IOCs the non-exclusive multi-client seismic data of the blocks to help them carry out basin evaluation, prospect generation and participation in the bid for exploration.

Bangladesh never carried out any multi-client seismic survey in offshore areas.

It earlier floated international tenders several times to carry out oil and gas exploration both in onshore and offshore areas by the IOCs.

The bid-winning IOCs carried out seismic surveys of their own in their respective blocks before getting down to doing exploration.

The country’s offshore areas are now well-demarcated following verdicts from international courts.

Bangladesh has territorial rights of up to 200 nautical miles from shore as exclusive economic zone in the Bay.

It has also free access to an estimated 387 nautical miles into deep sea following demarcation of maritime boundary by the international court of arbitration.

The country has huge potential of getting hydrocarbon in its maritime territory as both India and Myanmar already discovered gas in the Bay.

“The IOCs are expected to show significant interest in exploring offshore areas here once the seismic data are available,” says energy expert Prof M Tamim.

Petrobangla floated offshore bidding without any survey in 2008, 2012 and 2016, but only few IOCs participated in the bidding and production-sharing contracts could be inked only for four blocks.