An appeal to all Naga CSOs, NNPGs, Tribal & Community leaders, landowners, and all forward-thinking Nagas

In reiteration to an earlier published joint letter in leading Nagaland local dailies during the last week of September, 2021 titled ‘Are we going to miss the bus to economic development?’; we the undersigned wish to once again re-emphasize and draw the kind attention of all concerned to the following appeal that oil exploration in Nagaland should resume at the earliest. 

It is a universal fact that energy (fuel and electricity) are the engines that drive and propel any economy towards growth and progress. Without sufficient energy supply, economic development cannot take place in any society. Towards this, all of us are also aware that energy transition from usage of fossil fuel (petrol, diesel, natural gas etc) to cleaner forms of renewable energy (green energy) is fast becoming a global reality as nations are setting net-zero emission targets to reduce carbon footprints. India has also set a target to be a NET ZERO country by the year 2070. This is why domestic hydrocarbon exploration efforts are being intensified and accelerated throughout to make the best use of its natural resources while it can.

In such a scenario, will it not be prudent for Nagas also to allow National Oil Companies (NOC’s) who are willing to come and carry out oil exploration campaign at no cost to the State Government? The intend and objective of oil exploration is to examine and estimate the quantity of oil & gas in the sub-surface. Seismic surveys are carried out to help pinpoint and locate areas that are most prospective. They will ascertain how much hydrocarbon resources we have in our basket and where it lies. So, unless exploration activities are carried out, nobody will ever know what exactly is there beneath our land and the assumption that Nagaland has  huge oil reserves will only remain a wild speculation without any real evidence.

Technically, the oil &Gas business is a very capital and technology intensive industry involving thousands of crores of rupees. Commercial exploration drilling success rate worldwide ranges between 30-40% where a ratio of 1:3 is considered good. The industry operates under volatile environments of uncertainty and risk that it becomes difficult for small companies, private players or even the state government to carry out hydrocarbon exploration operations on their own.

Geologically, Nagaland is rated to be very promising and prospective for hydrocarbon resources because it sits on the Naga-Schuppen Belt of the prolific Assam Arakan Basin (Category-A basin). Do you know that Nagaland is considered to be the kitchen of hydrocarbon resources that feeds major oil and gas producing fields for the neighboring States… except to meet the needs of her own hungry starving economy. 

A recent hydrocarbon re-assessment carried out by the Govt of India has estimated that this prolific Assam Arakan Basin has 1633 Million Metric Tonnes of oil equivalent (MMTOE) to be in place of which only 178 MMTOE has been discovered so far i.e. only 11%. The big question next. Where is the remaining 89 % of yet-to-find oil (YTF)? Is it trapped in the reserves of Nagaland, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh? While some Geoscientists presume that Nagaland has about 600 million tonnes buried underneath, yet, in no certain terms can anyone assert with precision unless a systematic oil exploration activity is carried out by an E&P Company of repute. 

Very few know that in the 70’s, ONGCL had carried outexploratory activities and conducted 2D and 3D seismic surveys covering a few hundred Sq Kms in and around Wokha, Chumukedima and Dimapur districts. The rest of Nagaland remains unexplored and is still devoid of any systematic scientific study. There has not been any proper geological & geophysical (G&G) assessment study (API) carried out in this domain.

Economically, Nagaland Government (meaning the Nagas in general) is losing out on major financial benefits, long term gainful employment and business opportunities that can be generated out of oil exploration & production activities. For example, on an average, our neighbour State Assam earns aprox Rs 2000 crores annually as royalty from oil and gas alone. This is leaving aside the enormous amount invested in CSR activities for carrying out environmental and societal development activities in its operational areas. It is worth mentioning here that oil exploration (unlike other mining activities) does not hamper the environment (flora & fauna). Rather all environment conservation norms are followed in the strictest sense.

The scope for generating employment opportunities even during initial entry level activities of oil exploration phase can roughly be generalised as engaging around 200-300 unskilled labour while conducting 2D & 3D survey depending on the volume. There would be many other engagements during initial exploratory drilling activities which include civil works, material supply, miscellaneous contracts etc besides requirement for hiring fleets of heavy and medium utility vehicles for moving men, materials and machines to different sites and locations. There will be requirements for man (labour) supply contracts and land/building lease for offices and Materials storage.

It may be noted that during this initial phase, most of the engagements are short, temporary contractual engagements where preference is given to local land affected unemployed youths and entrepreneurs. This phase spans over a period of 5-10 years (from seismic to production phase alone).

Once the initial entry level activities are over and if an oilfield is discovered, the focus then shifts for transitioning into the ‘Production Phase’ after a public consensus is build amongst all stake holders. A new phase of the industry begins that spans over a period of 10 to 20 years and even beyond. The century old producing oilfields and thriving industrial oil townships in upper Assam stands testimony to this fact.

It is during this phase that revenue/royalty agreements and contracts are made between the stakeholders since we now know the reserve estimates and prospectivity of the oil field. Subsequently, setting up of production installations, storage and transportation facilities, manpower engagements, township, and community development etc all come into play. Here all activities and operations are for long term and permanent in nature as the industry prepares for growth and progress.

Socially, the younger generation of today wants economic independence and development for a sustainable, productive and a purposeful life … to live the aspirations of a new Naga era of ‘Economic Independence’. Though our leaders and policy makers are working in right earnest at appropriate levels, we do not really know how long it will take for a so called ‘Solution’ to emerge…maybe months, years or even a lifetime. However, in the process, the need for tangible economic needs and development cannot be stalled or ignored.

For a fact, while acknowledging the sacrifices made by our elders and older generation to preserve the Naga tradition, culture, land and mineral resources in the past; the current realities and challenges of unemployment, lack of industries and opportunity to accommodate our educated unemployed youths and to engage them in gainful sustainable employment cannot be ignored. We believe in the optimistic possibility of coexistence of both tradition and economic development.

Therefore, considering the above short- and long-term implications, we the undersigned strongly feel that the present and future generation should not be deprived anymore of the economic benefits that can accrue if oil exploration resumes in Nagaland. Having listed the technical constraints, geological possibilities, economic prospects, and social imperatives for oil exploration; it is the role and responsibility of every right forward-thinking Naga to be aware of the position Nagas are in this emerging energy scenario. We need to collectively build up a consensus and support the state government to take urgent steps in this direction. As of now, the window of opportunity is open (till the time crude oil remains relevant and valued). We pray that we arrive there fast. This will be a good strategic option for us. The crucial hour of reckoning.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned are concerned Naga Officers employed in a premier oil & gas E&PMaharatna Company based in Duliajan, Assam

1) M.A.Niphi, GM (HR Learning)
2) Benjamin Jamio, GM (Drilling Services)
3) Moakumzuk Ao, DGM (Field Engg)
4) Temjenmongba Jamir, DGM (Field Communication)
5) T.BenthungoNgullie, DGM (Well Logging)
6) Nchum Ngullie, Chief Manager (Security)
7) LanuwabangJamir, Dy Chief Chemist
8) Avi Richa,Dy Chief Engr (Well Logging)