Amid legal battle, ONGC takes over physical control of PMT from RIL & Shell

Amid legal battle, ONGC takes over physical control of PMT from RIL & Shell

Amid clouds over the legal battle regarding $4.5-billion claim by the government towards profit and royalty from Panna, Mukta and Tapti (PMT) fields, state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has physically taken over the PMT fields from Reliance Industries (RIL) and Shell.

The government had approached the Delhi High Court seeking to block RIL’s stake sale plans, including the -$15-billion deal with Saudi Aramco, citing non-payment of an international arbitral award to the tune of $4.5 billion on PMT. The Mukesh Ambani-led company had refuted the claims. According to sources, the final phase of the arbitration is scheduled in mid of 2020 and the government of India “has unilaterally made a calculation of an amount they claim to be payable, which is also in dispute.”

The Delhi High Court had asked RIL to disclose its assets on Friday, which meant the company may have to list all its assets before sealing the 20 per cent stake sale to Saudi Aramco. The government claim was based on a 2016 award by the English court, which did not mention any monetary sums. The companies are of the opinion that except when quantified by the tribunal, no amount can be said to be payable at this stage.

Despite the legal battle, the operations of the controversial field were physically handed over to ONGC on Saturday night. “The legal battle was not going to affect PMT transfer as both RIL and Shell were surrendering the blocks and not selling it. Moreover, it was the government nominee who was taking over the asset,” said a source close to the development. The court direction came after the signing of the transfer agreement last week.

A source said the arbitration tribunal is likely to hear the application by RIL and Shell regarding an increase in cost recovery limit under the production sharing contract, which if ruled in favor will bring down the government claims considerably.

Government had raised concerns in the court about the company’s ability to recover under the awards, as the PSC for the fields was getting over on December 21. In its response, RIL said that its financials were robust.

RIL and Shell hold 30 per cent each in Panna, Mukta, and Tapti joint venture (JV), while the remaining 40 per cent is owned by ONGC. This was the first field in India to have operated under the joint operatorship model. From December 1994 onwards, the companies produced 211 million barrels of oil and 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the fields.