New Delhi: In a measure to expedite the process of granting exploration licences, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday permitted the Union Ministers of Petroleum and Finance to award oil and gas blocks to winners in the auction, bids for which are due next month.
Earlier, only the cabinet could approve the award of blocks or areas for exploration and production of oil and gas.
"In line with the government initiative of ease of doing business, the Union Cabinet has given its approval for delegating the powers to Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Finance Minister to award the blocks/contract areas to successful bidders," a Petroleum Ministry release said following a cabinet meeting.
The two ministers will approve the award based on the recommendations of an Empowered Committee of Secretaries (ECS) "after international competitive bidding under the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP)", it said.
"This delegation of powers will expedite the decision making process on awarding blocks and give a boost to the initiative of ease of doing business," it added.
The Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) under HELP now allows the investor to carve out blocks of their choice and submit an Expression of Interest (Eol) throughout the year.
"Under the new HELP, the competitive bidding will be continuous and blocks will be awarded twice a year," the ministry said.
Currently, the first round of OALP is underway, with bids for 55 exploration blocks on offer for oil and gas prospecting. These blocks are to be awarded by July.
"Government received an overwhelming response in first Eol cycle of OALP which started on July 1, 2017, and closed on November 15, 2017.
"In the first bid round, 55 blocks, having an area of 59,282 sq km spread across 11 states have been offered for bidding. The bidding process is being handled through a secured and dedicated e-bidding portal," the statement said.
HELP replaced nine earlier rounds under the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) where government carved out areas for bidding.
The main features of HELP are revenue sharing contracts, as opposed to the previous profit sharing model, single licence for both conventional as well as unconventional hydrocarbon resources exploration and marketing and pricing freedom.