India’s Upstream Revival – HELP or Hurdle?
Following several years of stagnation, India’s government is attempting to revive its upstream exploration sector through the launch of a new Hydrocarbon Exploration Licensing Policy (HELP), comprising a set of measures including: a single licence for conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, open acreage licensing, a revenue sharing model, and commercial and marketing (pricing) freedom. The policy appears to be aimed at reducing administrative costs, preventing the recurrence of past disputes and arbitration, and recognizing India’s former, limited capacity to regulate and administer Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs). The first test of the new regime is a round of auctions for 67 marginal fields which previously formed part of the ‘legacy assets’ held by India’s National Oil Companies (NOCs). This Comment argues that India’s upstream sector is still characterized by certain features – such as the concentration of acreage holdings – which have impeded its past performance and as yet remain unresolved. Consequently, HELP risks ending up being another hurdle if it does little to address the government’s objectives for the upstream sector within broader Indian energy policy.