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JUN 23 2015

Cairns ex-official returns to India to hunt for oil

  • Economic Times, ET Bureau / Hyderabad
  • Created: Tue 23rd JUN 2015

Former Cairn Plc’s Deputy CEO Mike Watts, who discovered India’s prized Rajasthan oil reserves, is now returning to India to hunt for more of the same.


This, at a time when most local explorers, both state unit ONGC and private explorers such as Reliance, are getting frustrated in their searches for new oil and gas reserves.


Watts, along with former CFO at Cairn Plc, Jann Brown, have floated Magna Energy Ltd, which is backed by global private equity investor the Carlyle Group, through Carlyle International Energy Partners, a specialist fund for hydrocarbon and oil and gas sector investments.


Carlyle has made a commitment to invest up to $500 million (over Rs. 3,100 crore) in Magna’s projects of choice in the Indian subcontinent, particularly India and Bangladesh.


Over a conference call with the media, Watts said that he is returning because he believes he has “unfinished business in the region” and Magna’s present confidence is rooted in their previous experience in India.


“We will be looking to see if new sources of capital (like private equity) will suit oil exploration in India.” Magna has not revealed how exactly they intend to invest in India, only saying that they will not be a pure exploration company, the emphasis will be on production and on building consistent cash flows.


They will, however, participate in the auctions for ONGC’s marginal fields that are expected to happen later this year, despite Watts clarifying that “Fields that are marginal to ONGC may be marginal for us as well”.


The focus will not solely be in conventional reservoirs either. Watts said, “It is possible that the geology in India holds an unconventional oil and gas future in India.”


It already holds 17 per cent in Oilex Ltd, a mid-sized global exploration and production company, whose flagship project is the Cambay Basin in Gujarat.The energy exploration scene in India is in flux.


While Reliance has decided to cut its capital expenditure in exploration in the current year, ONGC has had to ramp it up, under pressure from the government to raise production volumes.India’s primary explorer spent close to Rs. 30,000 crore in capital expenditure last financial year.


At one-tenth that figure, it remains to be seen how significant the quantum of investment and the subsequent production by Magna Energy will be.





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