Interview: RPN Singh

How have unconventional gas sources, such as shale, changed energy market dynamics?

RPN SINGH: Unconventional gas sources are transforming the hydrocarbons sector. Just as oil is beginning to “peak”, the emergence of unconventional hydrocarbons as viable sources of energy means hydrocarbons will continue to be the primary or predominant source of energy in the world’s energy basket until the 2040s.

It is understood that shale gas will make the US self-sufficient in natural gas by 2035. For the first time, the US government is granting export licences to shale gas producers in the US. India advocates greater exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia-Pacific as it will have a salutary effect on the region’s gas markets. Export of LNG from the US to India will be a win-win situation for both sides; while US producers of shale gas will have access to the fastest growing gas markets, India will get LNG at reasonable prices.

In India, we have just completed the shale gas resource estimation, in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and we are in the process of formulating a shale gas policy as well as a regulatory structure for overseeing the first bid round for shale gas in India, expected to take place by 2013. Our oil companies have taken equity participation in shale gas corporations in the US to learn the technology and replicate it in India.

All these developments are part of the Indian government’s strategy to increase the rate of natural gas in India’s primary energy basket from the current 10% to the world average of 25% by 2025.

In terms of India’s energy security strategy, where does Saudi Arabia find itself and how do global sanctions on Iran come into play?

SINGH: Saudi Arabia has been our largest supplier of crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas. As part of our strategic partnership, the Kingdom has traditionally stood by us as a reliable and trusted supplier of our energy needs. During 2011-12, we imported 32.6m tonnes of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, 19% of total imports.

India has been following a conscious policy of source diversification to reduce oil dependence on any one country. As part of this policy, we import from a basket of about 40 countries spread over different continents. Most importantly, our decisions to import crude oil are determined by several factors, but primarily by technological and commercial considerations.

Regarding sanctions against Iran, India has made its position clear that it is obliged to follow the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Still, India must conduct its business within the given constraints.

India’s demand for crude oil has been growing alongside the impressive growth in our refining capacity. Our refining capacity is 3.7m barrels per day, 4% of the world’s capacity. With our current capacity of 213m tonnes per annum, projected to grow to 238m tonnes by 2014, we need more oil. In view of this, we do not have the luxury of being selective with regard to who supplies us. We seek incremental quantities of crude oil from whichever country can supply at the most attractive technological and commercial terms.

How much emphasis is there on developing renewable energy sources and are these efforts being coordinated with Gulf countries?

SINGH: India’s solar mission aims to generate some 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020. India is already the world’s fourth-largest producer of wind energy; currently around 13,000 MW and we hope to increase this to approximately 38,000 MW by 2022. India’s demand for power being huge, nuclear energy remains an important plank of our energy security. By 2020, our target is to produce 20,000 MW from nuclear energy sources.

The Gulf is extremely important for India. It accounts for 60% of India’s oil and gas needs as well as about 20% of our trade, valued at $135bn. The region provides employment to 6m Indians and accounts for over 50% of the remittances into India. Given our excellent relations, there is strong potential to collaborate with Gulf countries in developing renewable energies.