Saudi Aramco sets sight on India's downstream sector, plans mega investment

Amin Nasser, CEO, Saudi Aramco, at CERA Week petroleum summit, organised by IHS Markit in Delhi
The world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Aramco, on Monday said it would invest in the downstream oil and gas sector of India through a joint venture. It has set up a local arm, Aramco Asia India, even as it evaluates picking up a stake in the Rs 40,000-crore mega refinery on the west coast of the country.

“We are looking at mega investment in India, as it is an important market. India is going from 4.6 million barrels per day of oil consumption to 10 million barrels per day by 2040,” said Amin Nasser, chief executive officer (CEO), Saudi Aramco, at CERAWeek petroleum summit, organised by IHS Markit in Delhi. 

Besides Aramco, Russian state-owned Rosneft, which recently acquired Essar Oil for $13 billion, and American major Exxon Mobil have also committed further investment in India’s oil and gas sector, Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, told reporters, after a three-hour-long meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and oil industry leaders earlier in the day.

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was at the meeting, said India offered investment opportunities worth $300 billion in the sector over the next 10 years.

The government showcased policy decisions in the sector. While the industry demanded that the entire petroleum sector be brought under the goods and services tax (GST) regime, Pradhan said some relief for petroleum exploration and production had been given. The GST rate on offshore exploration, beyond 12 nautical miles, has been cut to 12 per cent from 18 per cent. 

Aramco plans to evaluate all segments of the petroleum business, including refining, pipeline, and marketing, and back it up with the latest technology, including information technology know-how.

“India is in our radar for a long time. We are in discussion with various players to have joint ventures in India and are very optimistic about the country. We are going to invest in India,” Nasser said.  He added the company was attracted to India’s growth potential.  India’s oil consumption has increased by 11 per cent in 2016, compared to a global average growth of 1.5 per cent.  The state-run oil company of Saudi Arabia would be sourcing products and services through its India office. “We are looking at collaborations in the manufacturing sector, long-term commitments by expanding the bilateral trade between both the countries from $25 billion now,” Nasser added.  The company will also be looking at collaborations with research institutions and the academia. “Saudi Aramco has expressed its interest to participate in the West Coast refinery being built by the three oil marketing companies. We are looking into it," Pradhan said.  The prime minister’s meeting was attended by, among others, BP CEO Bob Dudley, Naseer, Rosneft chief Igor Sechin, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, and Vedanta group Chairman Anil Agarwal. 

The PM indicated there would soon be a comprehensive energy policy. The NITI Aayog had, a few months ago, come out with a draft energy policy. Industry leaders said there was also a need to stabilise contract frameworks and arrangements, improvement in gas supply and, setting up of a gas hub.  Regulatory issues also came for discussion during the meeting. Officials said the industry wanted separation of tariff regulatory functions of Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board from its development role of giving rights for pipelines.

Kant and Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia briefed the industry about the policy decisions relating to the sector. Nearly 30 experts, including representatives from the International Gas Union, World Bank and International Energy Agency were present. Kant said the discussion forum would be institutionalised with representation from petroleum and financial sectors. Pradhan said India would raise the share of gas in the energy basket from the present seven per cent to 15 per cent.  

“India stands by its commitment under COP21 and we are on track to achieve 175 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by 2022. Gas-based power can play a big role in integrating renewables to the grid. We are planning a gas trading exchange and making sure there is open access to the gas grid,” he added.

The ongoing Open Acreage Licensing policy round is set to attract further investment in the sector. India has 26 sedimentary basins over 3.14 million sq km. Hydrocarbons are being produced in seven of these. In the new rounds, 2.7 million sq km will be on offer — 1.5 million onshore and 1.2 million offshore area. Bids are being invited on a revenue-share model, providing pricing and marketing freedom to operators.

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