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Reliance May Win Gas Price Hike With Guarantees

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Reliance Industries may be allowed to hike rates for its gas from April after it offered financial guarantees to the government to settle any claims against it over a shortfall in its gas output, the petroleum minister said.

In June, India approved a move to higher, market-related rates for locally-produced gas from April 2014, but the finance ministry later said prices for Reliance should be capped because the company's gas production from the offshore D6 block was far below its supply commitment.

Reliance, which operates the D6 block off India's eastern coast, has reported a sharp decline in gas output since 2010. Reliance and partner BP have cited geological complexities for the fall in output, but the oil regulator believes they failed to drill enough wells.

Falling output had already prompted the government to disallow proportionate cost recovery to Reliance, leading to arbitration proceedings over the issue.

"They have come forward with the proposal for bank guarantees. There are some arbitration proceedings pending. Till that is settled, they will submit bank guarantees," Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily told reporters at an industry event on Tuesday in Mumbai.

Gas from D6 was earmarked for strategic domestic industries including fertiliser production, cooking gas and power, but has fallen so much that only some fertiliser plants now get supplies from the offshore block.

"We will put up a cabinet note in 10-15 days. Our ministry is concerned because we are keen to close the issue," he added.

A spokesman for Reliance, controlled by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, declined to comment on the matter.

The minister did not disclose the amount of guarantees, although media reports have earlier estimated them at $135 million per quarter.

India, which imports nearly 80 per cent of its oil and a quarter of its gas requirement, hopes to launch a new round of auctions for oil and gas blocks by mid-January, Moily said.


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