Four years after securing Oil Prospecting Licences (OPL) in Nigeria , Indian energy giant, ONGC Mittal Energy Ltd (OMEL), has announced its readiness to start the first phase of hydrocarbon exploration in its deepwater block, OPL 285.

The Federal Government had awarded exploration rights on two oil blocks (OPL 279 and OPL-285) to OMEL during  during the 2005 licensing round, after the company showed commitment to invest $6 billion in the downstream sector.

OMEL is a joint venture between Mittal Investments Sarl, the private investment company of the Mittal family, and ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas investment arm of ONGC.

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua recently revoked some exploration licences granted to some companies, on the ground that due process was not followed.

Determined to achieve its set targets of  four million barrels per day of oil production and 40 billion barrel reserve base by 2010, government, THISDAY learnt, is encouraging more exploration activities, especially in the deepwater area.

The Federal Government, it was also learnt, has vowed to revoke exploration licences for oil blocks that are still lying fallow years after and re-award them to companies that are ready to use them.

Managing Director, Mittal Investments, Mr Sudhir Maheshwari, said  yesterday that the joint venture plans to drill the first well this year, while the second one would be drilled in the next calendar year.

'The first rig is to go down in the block in August. The joint venture plans to drill one well during this calendar year and the second in the next calendar,” the Hindu Business Line quoted Maheshwari as saying.

The OPL-285 is also a deepwater block, where OMEL, through OMEL Energy Nigeria, holds 64.33 per cent participating interest and operatorship. The other partners in the block are EMO, a Nigerian company (10 per cent) TOTAL (25.67 per cent interest).

The OMEL, in April got the approval of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to build a refinery in Nigeria .

'The steering committee and the working committee of NNPC, has approved the refinery as OMEL's preferred downstream commitment. OMEL is in constant discussion with NNPC regarding its downstream commitment. It has carried out a pre-feasibility study for a grassroots refinery by engaging a reputed international consultant,” Maheshwari said.