Seismic studies form the backbone of any exploration activity. It provides the image for the
potential hydrocarbon resources. Dr Rabi Bastia, President, Oilmax Energy
, talks to
Mittravinda Ranjan & Supriya Oundhakar about the importance of seismic surveys, shale
gas and CBM developments in India and more. While talking about ‘Basins Below Basins’ concept,
he explains that Wilcox basin in the USA is a good example that has exploration history of over a
century, where the seismic studies have unveiled some interesting stratigraphy, which indicated the
presence of hydrocarbon reserves at deeper levels. Excerpts:
May we have your comments on accelerating
exploration activities in the Indian frontier basins?
Seismic studies are the foremost step for carrying out
any exploration activity that enables the geoscientists to
understand the stratigraphy to assess the available potential.
To me, most of our frontier basins are not covered with
adequate seismic surveys. And with the frontier basins – I
do not mean the sedimentary basins in Cambay, Assam and
Mumbai, where we are already active – but the basins such as
Central Indian basins, Himalayan foothills, Gangetic plains and
offshore basins, where the offshore can be connected to the
coast with deep-waters up to 3 kms, and even basins below
basins. The potential needs to be explored in the earnest
way and intensity using high-end seismic technologies
and geological techniques.
Tell us more about the 'Basins Below Basins' and the
possible areas that could hold hydrocarbon potential.
Metaphorically speaking, basin below basin is like 'New
Wine in Old Bottle' which means that there could be a very
fair possibility of finding hydrocarbon resources below the
Wilcox basin in the USA is a good example that has the
exploration history of over a century, where the seismic
studies have unveiled some very interesting stratigraphy,
which indicated the presence of hydrocarbon reserves at deeper levels. As they went deeper, they realised the
accumulations were to the order of billions of barrels –
much larger than they had imagined and that is after 100
years of exploration, which have become targets for today.
In India, we started with on land basins, and then moved to
offshore deep water, but perhaps this could probably be only
the first tier and if explored further, may be we could also
come across some interesting geologies that could be holding
sufficient resources to suffice for years to come. Having said
this, I do not mean that all the basins would fall under this
category but certain basins could possibly reveal some
interesting stratigraphy and hold huge hydrocarbon potential.
In your view what would be the right approach
towards discovering 'new wine in old bottles'?
Traditionally, we searched conventional oil in conventional
reservoirs. But there are three more quadrants that need to
be considered, which include searching for conventional
resources in unconventional reservoirs and shale gas
would be a good example, unconventional resources
in conventional reservoirs such as oil sands etc. and
unconventional reserves in unconventional reservoirs such
as oil shale and CBM.
There is a compelling need to change our approach of
searching oil & gas resources towards tracing oil & gas accumulations and going further to map the deeper
rock formations for estimating the potential in the
same old basins, would require advanced techniques.
Integration of seismic technologies along with
geophysical techniques for better data acquisition,
imaging, interpretation and visualisation can enable
the geoscientists to look at the same old basins with
new eyesight for mapping the potential resources.
How much have we progressed on the shale gas
front in India and can we emulate the shale gas
success story in USA in India?
Not much. Developing the unconventional resources like
shale gas would require a very prudent and pragmatic
approach. The normal perception that prevails is
that mapping for conventional and unconventional
is the same, but it is not true. The unconventional
resources need completely different treatment from
the conventional ones. The unconventional reservoirs
need to be understood to a greater extent that involves
different imaging techniques and seismic technologies
for better data acquisition, mapping and interpretation
by the geologists.
Though there has been much talk about the
unconventional energy in the country, it is now
required for us to think on the lines of making
commercial project out of shale gas in India. If USA has
produced about 6 per cent of its total production from
this resource alone, we need to find out the basins
which can give that kind of output. India would require
a very prudent and pragmatic approach and a logical
actionable plan, coupled with congenial policies to
attract investments to develop the shale gas assets.
In your view, what would be the
right approach towards developing the
The normal perception is that the mapping for
conventional and unconventional reservoirs is the
same but that is not the case. These require better
imaging from seismic surveys to understand the
reservoir characteristics, which is the foremost
step. This must be followed by proper sampling and
analysis to assess the gas content and gas generation
potential. The sample collection cannot be done in
an open chamber but done in a confined way so
that nothing escapes at the time of collection and
when it is taken to the laboratory to ascertain the
What should be done to materialise the shale
gas plans in Indian context?
Though, there is a lot of talk currently going on, at this
point of time India needs an actionable plan to emulate
the success story of the USA or China. As of now there
are many estimates about the potential shale gas
resources in India, but we need to have the right basic
input data based on seismic studies carried out to map
the unconventional assets and actual pilot studies to
prove the potential of shale gas in the country. At this
point of time, India needs an actionable plan based on
true inputs to monetise the shale gas assets.
Second on the priority list is sourcing of environment
friendly fracking techniques. So far, hydro fracturing
has been a prominent shale gas production technique,
which is both tedious and unfriendly to environment.
The technology has evolved and there are some
hydro fracturing equivalents that the industry is
experimenting with which could result in better yields
from sub surface which should be captured for better
productivity and lesser damage to the environment.
India holds fourth largest coal reserves globally
and has a good scope for deriving energy, but
till date only 10 per cent of resources have been
developed. May we have your views?
Coal has tremendous potential and can be treated as
complete energy package whether it is CBM or coal
gasification, or taking nitrogen and other gases and
re-injecting them into the surface to get enhanced
energy levels. As compared to other coal provinces in
the world, Indian coal has higher ash content, which
definitely doesn’t mean lack of potential in Indian coal.
Here also the drilling and production techniques are
critical and require better understanding of geological
and geophysical characteristics.
What about the enhancing oil recoveries in
the existing fields and developing the satellite
fields which can significantly contribute to the
energy supplies in the country?
Application of EOR & IOR has made some contribution
towards enhancing hydrocarbon production from
the existing hydrocarbon fields not only in India but
globally as well. Many operators now try incorporating
these plans at the initial development stage. Though
some of the new fields can be considered for
integrating EOR plans during the planning stage of
developing a field. In India, I feel EOR and IOR have 2-5 per cent of scope as far as Greenfield projects
are concerned; and some of the new fields could
be considered for integrating EOR during the field
development plan but not all.
I agree with you that satellite fields and the marginal
fields are the frontier area for the E&P companies
which they need to look into in India. These require
proper infrastructure support and new technologies to
enable the operators to produce in profitable manner.
The marginal fields have smaller reserves and due
to higher production costs developing the fields in
India is not economically viable currently. However,
the countries like Malaysia and Nigeria have very
successfully developed the marginal fields, which is
something India could learn from.
Satellite fields can be more economically produced
if there development is integrated with facilities of
nearby bigger existing fields.
Can India emulate doubling the gas
productivity and development of hydrocarbon
assets at fast pace like what China has done?
E&P companies alone cannot develop the assets to
meet the goal of reaching self- sufficiency. It has
to be concerted effort of regulatory authorities,
policy makers, E&P companies and the associated
At this point of time, India needs congenial policy
framework that would enable the investors to operate in
a profitable manner. Irrespective of the licensing model
that we follow in the country for allocation of fields,
there is a need to improve the overall governance which
should focus on creating congenial environment for the
existing investors to operate in profitable manner, retain
them and attract new investors.
What do you feel about the oil & gas market
opening up in Africa – often referred to as the
We have witnessed the revolution in Africa’s oil &
gas sector that spread from Angola to Mozambique
to Nigeria and Tanzania, where most of the large E&P
companies are operating now. The governments are
encouraging infrastructure development also in these
areas. If other countries progress much faster than India
and create wealth through development in oil & gas
assets, India is likely to lose its competitive edge.