India's ONGC willing to wait to regain oil from Russian project

The logo of Oil and Natural Gas Corp's (ONGC) is pictured along a roadside in Ahmedabad

By Rod Nickel

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -India's state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp wants to eventually receive a share of crude from a Russian project it partly owns, but is willing to wait because Russian oil is hard to ship right now, the head of ONGC's overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh, said on Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last year removed an Exxon Mobil subsidiary as operator of the Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project in Russia's Far East and transferred it to a new operator. ONGC Videsh has since regained its 20% stake in the project and is in talks with Russian government officials and company shareholders to resume taking oil under a production-sharing arrangement, said Rajarshi Gupta, CEO of ONGC Videsh.

"If we can be in a position to lift our oil and market our oil, that would be better," Gupta said in an interview at the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary, Canada. "As of now, there are so many restrictions on that oil, so if someone else is dealing with that, I'm OK with it for the time being."

Western governments have slapped sanctions on Russian oil over the war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a special military operation. It is difficult to secure insurance and shipping to transport Russian oil, Gupta said, and such shipments must abide by an international price cap. The cap allows third countries to buy Russian fuel using Western ship insurance if there is proof the purchase does not exceed price limits of $60 per barrel for crude.

The talks with Russia and other project shareholders may take six months to conclude, Gupta said.

Sakhalin-1 produces about 200,000 barrels of oil per day. Other shareholders include Japan's Sodeco and Russia's Rosneft.

ONGC, India's top explorer, has investments in three Russian projects in total but the company is not actively looking to invest further in Russia for now, he said.

"There are not enough sellers, not enough buyers," Gupta said. "People are waiting for things to evolve (with the Russia-Ukraine war)."

ONGC accounts for about two-thirds of India's oil production and about 58% of its gas output. The country relies on imports for most of its oil and gas.

India's crude oil imports fell for a third month in a row in August, government data showed on Tuesday, as refiners in the world's third biggest importer carried out maintenance and reduced shipments from Russia.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by David Gregorio)