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The Scotsman: Cairn to debate India sale

The Scotsman: Cairn to debate India sale

“In Bangladesh, we’ve recently taken over the operatorship of assets from Shell.”

JAMES DOW

Posted 22 August 04

CAIRN Energy could sell off its massive oil interests in west India and will debate its options once further tests in the area have been wrapped up, the company’s chairman has told The Scotsman.

Norman Murray said the Edinburgh explorer is keeping an “open mind” on the future of its Rajasthan operations in the west Indian subcontinent. He said a decision will be made once an ongoing assessment programme has revealed the true scale of the discovery and the operational demands it would place on the company.

“We’ll need to see what the scale is at the time,” he said. “Nothing’s been set in stone.” Murray stressed that Cairn is comfortable in its role as oil field operator, as well as explorer. “In Bangladesh, we’ve recently taken over the operatorship of assets from Shell. Operating is something we’re quite confident about.”

And this confidence, he added, meant that Cairn could retain its ownership of the Rajasthan field and attempt to pump oil. Equally, it might sell up and move on. “There’s flexibility there … when the time comes,” he said.

A respected oil analyst, who asked not to be named, said meetings with Cairn had made it clear that the company was open to the idea of selling off its control of the Rajasthan block. “They are the first to recognise they are probably not the right to people to operate a billion barrel oil field,” the analyst said. “There’s a lot of talk [in the City] it may ultimately be sold.”

Shares in Cairn were trading around 1,454p yesterday, making it Scotland’s fifth-largest quoted company. Its strikes in the Rajasthan Basin have almost quadrupled its market value this year. It began 2004 at about 400p. Cairn has made four big finds in the Rajasthan region. It has five rigs in place and plans to drill ten to 15 exploration wells later this year.

A spokesman for Cairn said yesterday the firm expects to update the City on the progress of its assessment programme on 7 September. An independent survey of the reserves is being carried out for the company by an unnamed contractor.

The news will coincide with Cairn’s interim results. They are expected to lead to a fall in profits – but that has not prevented the shares climbing to unprecedented heights.

“The assessment programme is ongoing, but it has to be concluded by the end of May 2005,” the spokesman said, referring to the deadline for submitting development plans required by the Indian government.

He declined to be drawn on the progress made by the programme. Analysts said a buyer is unlikely to be found until the tests are completed.

A windfall from the sale of Cairn’s Rajasthan interests would probably be returned in large part to shareholders. The company could then focus on other exploration projects. It recently signed agreements for five exploration blocks on the India and Nepal border.

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