Oil and gas scenario in Manipur

Kh Dilip Singh *

Eastern margin of Manipur, also known as Ophiolite Belt in geology, extending from Jessami (Ukhrul District) in the north to Moreh (Tengnoupal District) in the south is rich in metallic and non-metallic minerals like limestone, chromite, PGE (Platinum Group of Elements like platinum, nickel, vanadium, etc.).

Western margin of Manipur including portions of the districts of Tamenglong, Jiribam, Churachandpur and Pherzawl is reportedly rich in hydrocarbon (oil and gas) and falls under Assam-Arakan Basin. Studies have shown that prospect of having a good reserve of gas is very high in the region.

The Scenario

1. Oil and gas is a Central subject. Therefore, their exploration and production is carried out through the Directorate General of Hydrocarbon (DGH), Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Govt. of India through competitive bidding.

2. Central and private agencies who had carried out exploration for oil and gas in the State of Manipur included ONGC, Oil India Ltd., Tullow India and Jubilant Energy. A brief of their works are as under :-

(a) Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd.(ONGC) and Tullow India Operations Ltd : The Directorate General of Hydrocarbon, GoI awarded an exploration block AA-ONJ/2 to the consortium comprising of Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd.

(ONGC) and Tullow India Operations Limited under Joint Venture Exploration Programme- 1995 belonging to parts of Assam, Mizoram and Manipur. Total exploration area comprised of 1277 out of which 220 sq. km was in Manipur falling under Jiribam and Churachnadpur districts. However, no exploration work was carried out in portions of Manipur and the area was relinquished w.e.f. 1/7/2014.

(b) Exploration of Oil and Gas by Jubilant Energy, Noida : M/S. Jubilant Energy, Noida was granted Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) on 15-11-2010 in a total area of 3,957 km2 in Manipur for exploration of oil and gas in two blocks (in the districts of Pherzawl, Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Jiribam) as under:
(1) AA-ONN-2009/1 - 2217 km2
(2) AA-ONN-2009/2 - 1740 km2

Works Completed

Some of the works completed are;
o Risk assessment and Demography Survey
o Pre-seismic EIA studies
o Second phase Geological and Stratigraphic Mapping
o 418 LKM survey
o 2D seismic data acquisition
o 5273 LKM Airborne Survey
o Extensive survey and identification of 30 drill sites (17 in Block- I and 13 in Block – II)

The area reportedly has a very high potential for striking gas reserve (not oil). In order to confirm its availability, the quality and quantity, the company proposed to carry out deep drilling involving heavy and big machines. During the first two-three years the company is learnt to have invested over Rs 100 crore.

Logistic Problems

Then existing roads and bridges were not capable of transporting exploratory drilling equipments. There was no bridge in Tipaimukh to mobilise from Jiribam.

Issues for Clearances

(i) M/S. Jubilant Energy had applied for grant of Environmental Clearances (EC) in September, 2011. They had also applied for land acquisition at Parbung (Block-I) and Oinamlong and Nungba (Block-II) in July, 2011. The land being forest area, diversion was needed to be able to use for non-forest purposes. Forest diversion was reportedly applied in 2012. However, no approval could be obtained. As per existing rules, EC is to be issued only after receiving forest land diversion.

(ii) Local problems : Failure to obtain EC and acquisition of land, then prevailing logistic problems coupled with local issues, the Company was forced to relinquish the blocks in February, 2017.

(c) National Seismic Survey Programme of the Govt. of India : As part of National programme to identify potential areas of hydrocarbon bearing rocks in the country, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had taken up the National Seismic Survey Programme throughout the country. In respect of Manipur, the work was entrusted to M/S. Oil India Ltd. (OIL).

The scope of work included acquisition of Regional 2D Seismic Data and it was to cover 870 LKM in the State. However, only 4.74 km lines could be completed. As part of the work, OIL carried out some controlled blasting at some selected locations at a depth of about 15-20 meter and the reflected waves were recorded.

Analysis of the reflected waves gives a picture of the nature and a rough structure of rocks beneath the surface. This will help in interpretation of the presence of favorable oil and gas bearing rock structure and formations, if any. OIL started the works from Jiribam towards Khaidem Village (near Khumbong in Imphal West) via Tamenglong.

Obstruction from the local people/NGOs

The local people were afraid that blasting carried out by OIL might disturb the structures around the blasting sites and cause an irreparable environmental pollution. They were also apprehensive that people from outside the State were going to take away our wealth leaving an empty coffer for the local people.

Causes of the obstruction

The above problems appeared to be due to lack of awareness among the people, political interference or interest of some NGOs. It is not that no attempt was made to give awareness to the local population of the then ongoing operations. Public hearings had been organized in various areas by the respective companies in association with local administration and Manipur Pollution Control Board. Whereas the local population generally welcomed the exploration, it was some civil societies who were against such activities.

Grant of Petroleum Exploration Licences

Sedimentary Basins of India are classified into three categories; Category-I, II and III Basins respectively. Basins which have proven hydrocarbon resources with established commercial production have been categories as Category-I Basin and areas of Manipur belong to Category-I Basin.

Petroleum Exploration License (PEL) is granted by the concerned State Government after due approval of the Government of India through competitive bidding.

The New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) became effective in April 1999 and since then licenses for exploration of oil and gas are being awarded only through a competitive bidding system and National Oil Companies are required to compete on an equal footing with Indian and foreign companies to secure Petroleum Exploration Licences.

NELP was subsequently modified in March 2016 by implementing Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP). This policy is based on the new model of Revenue Sharing Contract (RSC) which has replaced the earlier model of Production Sharing Contract (PSC) under NELP. Under HELP, Open Acreage Licensing (OAL) mechanism has been launched which allows the investors to carve out blocks of their choice by assessing exploration and production (E&P) data available at National Data Repository (NDR) maintained by DGH and by submitting a suo moto Expression of Interest (EoI).

EOI can be submitted throughout the year without waiting for a formal bid round from the Government for blocks of their choice for contracting based on the data available in NDR or data previously procured from the Government of India. These blocks would be subsequently offered through biannual formal bidding process. A single license will cover exploration and production of all types of hydrocarbon.


(i) Manipur belongs to a highly tectonically active zone and lie along a plate margin where two plates collide continuously. This causes earthquakes. Low intensity earth- quakes (which human find it difficult to perceive), apart from intensity of higher nature, occur regularly. In the process, cracks are developed in the earth’s crust and available gas, if at all it is, might be released continuously. This will result in depletion of gas reserve. Further, a time may come when there will be no gas left.

(ii) Gas bearing belt of Manipur may be a continuity of the belt in Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland; being in the same Assam-Arakan Fold Belt. As such, when exploitation of oil and gas takes place in any part of the belt in other State(s), there will be a free flow of gas from portions of Manipur thus leading to depletion of gas in the State’s region.

In view of the above, claims by some sections of people for preserving our natural resources for future generation (TUNG-GI MEEHOUROL-GI) may not be in the best interest of the State. There might be a time when there would be no gas reserve left at the time when we try to exploit them. Further, the world is looking for an alternative to fossil fuel in view of environmental considerations and there may be a time when use of fossil fuel may be banned.

Globally, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been pushing its member countries for transitioning into a greener energy source. The Conference of Parties-27 (COP-27), 2022 Summit held at Sharm El–Sheikh, Egypt witnessed multiple countries demanding phase-out of all fossil fuels.

India presented its climate commitment at COP-26 Summit at Glasgow in 2021 as Panchamitra - (1) achieve Net Zero Emission by 2070, (2) increase Non-Fossil Fuel Energy Capacity to 500 GW by 2030, (3) meet 50% of its energy requirement from Renewable Energy by 2030, (4) reduce the Total Projected Carbon Emissions by 1 billion tones from now till 2030, and (5) reduce Carbon Intensity of its Economy by less than 45% by 2030.

The oil and gas industry has the potential to bring economic prosperity to the State revitalising employment sector, bringing in new sources of Government revenue and strengthening energy security. It will be in the best interest if a processing plant is also set up.

Therefore, the State Government should take up immediate actions for exploitation of oil and gas in Manipur keeping in mind the interest of the local people and environmental considerations.

* Kh Dilip Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Retd. Joint Director of Trade, Commerce & Industries, Govt of Manipur
This article was webcasted on March 20 2023.

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