New Delhi/Mumbai: tate-run GAIL India Ltd, India’s largest natural gas pipeline operator, has invited users to book surplus network capacity online as the country prepares to create a distribution hub that sets benchmark prices.

GAIL India Ltd, which controls 70% of the nation’s network, on Monday launched a website for online bookings of pipeline capacity to ship gas across the country. GAIL, with 11,400 kilometres (7,084 miles) pipelines, is investing 25,000 crore ($3.6 billion) to add another 5,000 kilometres, Chairman Bhuwan Chandra Tripathi said.

Greater sharing of infrastructure will allow quicker trading and movement of natural gas supplies and boost utilisation of GAIL’s pipelines. The government is looking to cut emissions and its oil import bill by doubling the share of gas in the energy mix to 15%.

“This is going to pave the foundation for the gas hub," Tripathi said. “The online booking allows transparent and hassle-free access and increases the ease of operations, and pushes the country toward a gas-based economy."

GAIL already has more than a hundred customers using its pipeline network on an open-access basis. Once the gas hub is operational, it will increase utilisation of the company’s pipelines, which are operating at half capacity, Tripathi said.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, which has been tasked with setting up the gas-trading exchange, expects the hub to be operational by December. The Cabinet is expected to approve the gas exchange plan “soon," Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Monday.

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