* Wants to double overseas output to 400,000 bpd by 2018
* Eyes exploration assets for longer-term upside
* Looks for bargains as oil prices fall (Adds chairman quotes, context)
By Nidhi Verma
NEW DELHI, Oct 27 (Reuters) - India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) wants to take advantage of falling oil prices to more than double its overseas output to the equivalent of 400,000 barrels per day of oil by 2018, Chairman D.K. Sarraf told Reuters.
Global oil prices sank to a four-year low at below $83 a barrel this month, hitting valuations of energy explorers.
The Indian government, which is preparing to float a $3 billion stake in ONGC, wants state firms to secure energy assets abroad to reduce the exposure of Asia’s third-largest economy to supply risks.
India is the world’s fourth-biggest oil consumer, importing four-fifths of its needs as its own output shrinks.
“For meeting the short-term 2018 target we would like to aggressively go for producing assets, because you can’t acquire an exploration block and then make it produce in such a short time,” Sarraf said in a telephone interview on Monday.
ONGC, the country’s biggest oil explorer, has often been criticised for stagnant output and the slow pace of exploration and development.
Sarraf reaffirmed ONGC’s long-term plans to raise overseas output in two stages to 60 million tonnes of oil plus oil-equivalent gas by 2030 - or 1.2 million barrels per day.
The plan envisages investing around $180 billion between 2013 and 2030 on a gamut of projects including raising local and overseas oil and gas output, according to the company’s website.
Sarraf, however, added that ONGC was interested at the same time in acquiring overseas exploration assets, which would take longer to enter production, with a view to hitting its 2030 goal.
“More value is created through exploration assets,” he said. “Even for the 2030 target we cannot get out of exploration (to production) if we don’t start acting on exploration now.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has initiated a process to sell a 5 percent stake in ONGC, which is 69 percent state controlled.
ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas investment arm of ONGC, produced about 9 million tonnes of oil and oil equivalent gas (180,000 bpd) in the fiscal year to March 31, 2014, Sarraf said.
To achieve its pursuit of acquiring overseas assets ONGC has signed initial cooperation agreements with Mexico’s national oil company Pemex, PetroVietnam, Ecuador and PdVSA of Venezuela.
In the last fiscal year ONGC Videsh bought a 20 percent stake in a block in Mozambique, raised its stake in a deepwater block in Brazil and was awarded exploration blocks in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Russia’s Rosneft has also offered stakes in two Siberian oil fields to ONGC, which is already a partner in the Sakhalin 1 offshore project.
ONGC has 13 producing assets in eight countries. It had cash and cash equivalent of 108 billion rupees on March 31, 2014 and its profitability is set to rise after Modi’s five-month-old government hiked gas prices and scrapped subsidies on diesel.
ONGC, along with other explorers, had been giving a discount on crude and products sales to state fuel retailers to partly compensate them for losses on retail sales at cheaper regulated rates for diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.
When asked where his firm was targeting oil and gas assets Sarraf said: “The globe. The target is so big we can’t look for one geography and say no to another.”
He listed Russia and the former Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States, Africa and the Middle East, adding, “We are not in the U.S. and Canada, we want to be there as well.” ($1=61.22 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Ryan Woo)