Govt to restructure gas hydrate programme

Govt to restructure gas hydrate programme

New Delhi: India plans to revamp the National Gas Hydrate Programme and set up an agency to push the government’s bid to extract fuel from the ocean-based source and reduce its dependence on imports.

Gas hydrates are methane molecules trapped in ice. The hydrate blocks look like chocolate bars, with each slab containing the fuel. Theoretically, each cubic metre of hydrate contains around 164 cu. m of methane or natural gas.

The National Gas Hydrate Programme was started in 1997 by the petroleum ministry. In 2000, the Director General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) became the technical coordinator of the programme, and through a scientific cooperation programme with the US, India acquired core samples of gas hydrates. After the US and Japan, India is the third country to have done this.

While the current structure involves various officials on the payroll of different government organizations working on the programme guided by a steering committee of the petroleum ministry, the new system would bring them together under one organization —the National Research and Development Centre for Gas Hydrates—to improve efficiency.

The centre is expected to be set up in Navi Mumbai due to its proximity to a port.

“We have made a proposal and within two months, what model comes up needs to be deliberated. We have established the reserves," said director general of hydrocarbons (DGH) S.K. Srivastava.

According to government estimates, India has 1,894 trillion cu. m of gas hydrates in its waters. However, the technology to tap gas from gas hydrates is still experimental, and the extraction could come at a big environmental cost. One kg of methane has almost 23 times the greenhouse warming potential of carbon dioxide. At least half the methane in the world is believed to be trapped under the ocean floor, close to coast lines.

The steering committee is headed by the petroleum secretary and consists of DGH along with heads of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC), GAIL (India) Ltd, Oil India Ltd and Oil Industry Development Board among others as members. There is also a technical committee with DGH as programme coordinator and having operational sub groups.

The board of directors of the new gas hydrate agency will comprise members of firms and institutes who will sponsor the programme along with eminent scientists. Along with an operational wing, it will have a geology and geophysics lab besides a research and development wing, an engineering lab and an environment impact assessment lab.

“To improve efficiency, we felt that it has to be done in a formal and time-bound manner," said Srivastava, who is also director of operations at state-run Oil India. The centre will conduct field implementation of R&D (research and development) finds, geoscientific surveys and address safety and environment issues. The petroleum ministry will nominate a full-time gas hydrate programme manager as part of the initiative.

Blocks that were awarded before the new exploration licensing policy (Nelp) are to be studied by ONGC on the east coast and on the west by Oil India and GAIL, while the Andaman area is to be studied by DGH. The post-Nelp blocks are to be studied by DGH. The government auctions oil and gas blocks for exploration and extraction through Nelp; eight rounds of auctions have been held so far since 1999.

India imports 75% of its oil needs and accounts for 3.5% of global consumption. It will become the third largest oil importer after the US and China before 2025, with energy demands expected to almost double by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.