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India Ponders Developing Extensive Fracking Industry

Of the four rising economies comprising the BRIC grouping, only the Russian Federation and Brazil are self-sufficient in energy production.

Accordingly, China is investigating any and all possible energy sources, including shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”


Because the reserves are apparently there.

Last April the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that China has nearly 50 percent more "technically recoverable" shale gas than the United States, placing its reserves at 1.275 quadrillion cubic feet and China has started drilling to meet an ambitious annual production target of 80 billion cubic meters by 2020.

Now India seems poised to go down a similar path, as the cost of its energy imports is proving a significant drag on the otherwise explosive growth of the nation’s economy. India, the world's fourth largest oil importer, ships in 80 percent of its oil requirements. The value of India’s exports in October 2011 was $19.87 billion, but this was severely undercut by oil imports during the same month, which cost the nation $10.08 billion.

Accordingly, the Indian government is now assessing the availability of shale gas to meet the country’s rising energy demands.

A senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Deccan Herald, "We are assessing the availability of shale gas in the country to formulate a policy. Before formulating the policy, we have to complete the resource assessment, carve out blocks and then finalize terms and conditions of exploration."

There has been little exploration of shale gas reserves in India so far.

Last year India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd. (ONGC) in cooperation with Schlumberger drilled the country’s first shale well, RNSG No. 1, in Ichapur village near Durgapur, West Bengal to a depth of roughly 1.24 miles.

In a statement ONGC announced that RNSG No. 1 was drilled to assess the shale gas potential of a roughly 2,300 foot thick of Permian age shale, estimated to be about 250-300 million years old.

RNSG No. 1 was temporarily shut down in September 2010 because of problems with the casing, high water-cut production, and high surface pressure but in Dec. 2011 ONGC struck shale gas for the first time in India in its RNSG No.1 well, confirming the presence of gas in Indian shale. Following its success ONGC announced its intention to drill three more wells in the Damodar Valley in West Bengal by end of XIth Five Year Plan in March 2012.

Initial assessments by ONGC and other energy companies indicate that at least six other Indian sedimentary basins may have commercial potential. Besides the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin, which extends from Andhra Pradesh into the Bay of Bengal on India’s east coast and is already producing natural gas, other potential shale gas deposit sites include Cambay in western Gujarat state, Cauvery in the southern Deccan plateau, Assam-Arakan in the northeast, Gondawana in central India, Raghavapuram shale on India's eastern coast and the Gangetic basin, which takes in the Damodar sub-basin of West Bengal.

But exploiting these resources is likely to run up against a significant obstacle – India’s vaunted red tape bureaucracy. Currently in India government-issued leases for conventional petroleum exploration do not include unconventional sources such as shale gas. Until recently natural gas generated from shale has been so outside of government consideration that was not even mentioned in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s February 2011 “Strategic Plan for New and Renewable Energy Sector for the Period 2011-2017.”

Undeterred by such obstacles, Indian companies Reliance Industries and state-owned Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) have already bought stakes in U.S. shale gas assets to learn the details of American fracking and horizontal drilling techniques and technologies. Reliance is splashing out $2.7 billion for Atlas Energy/Chevron, Carrizo Oil & Gas, and Pioneer Natural Resources) shale joint ventures as well as setting aside an additional $1.3 billion in future spending, while GAIL has committed to a $300 million investment in a venture with Carrizo, adding that it intends to spend another $1 billion over the next five years on U.S. shale assets.

In an irony that even the Hindu pantheon of deities would appreciate, as the U.S. fracking industry faces possible rising local, state and federal restriction over the potential environmental consequences of its unbridled activities, the practice seems to be simply another U.S. technology about to be outsourced to India. Whether or not it will prove to be as productive in India as its backers hope remains to be seen.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

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