British Gov't To Help Resolve Indian Oilfield Dispute

The British Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt met with Petroleum Minister Ram Naik in an effort to seek a resolution on the issue of operatorship of the Panna-Mukta and Tapti offshore fields. "It was decided that both the governments would lend whatever support is needed for an early resolution," Petroleum Minister Ram Naik said in a statement to Press Trust India. The two sides were very close to a arriving at an agreement, he said, adding, "She (Hewitt) expressed satisfaction about the approach of the (Petroleum) Ministry, and that the government partners will soon come to an understanding."

BG Group last month proposed involving ONGC and Reliance (the other partners in the field) in the award of multi-million dollar contracts, which the ONGC chairman and managing director Subir Raha said was "a welcome change".

"BG's approach till now has been to become de-facto sole operator of the field, which obviously was not acceptable to us. There is a shift in their stand which is encouraging," he said.

ONGC, which had earlier said it would not settle for anything less than joint operatorship, is looking at the fresh offer as a means to resolve the issue. BG, which took over interim operatorship of the fields after buying Enron's 30 per cent stake, has also promised transparency and greater participation of Indian partners in decision making.

Declining to give details of BG's proposal, Raha said, "We (ONGC, BG and Reliance) had in February reached an understanding that the Panna-Mukta and Tapti fields will be operated through integrated joint operatorship with substantive participation of partners."

Stating that the government would not force its will on the partners in Panna-Mukta and Tapti, Naik said it is a commercial dispute and the partners have to come to an agreement.

ONGC is the largest shareholder in the field with 40 percent stake while Reliance holds the remaining 30 percent.