Open doors for acquiring valuable data and identifying growth opportunities, he says in exclusive interview

Deputy Managing Director of Cosmos Group, Masud Khan, has said the updated Bangladesh Offshore Model Production Sharing Contract (PSC) should attract international oil companies to explore the country's offshore areas.

Though the updated Model PSC has created some challenges for investors, he believes that its latest features will provide them more opportunities to enjoy full scale benefits compared to the past.

"Under the Bangladesh Offshore Model PSC 2023, successful bidders will enjoy benefits such as full profit repatriation, uncapped gas prices linked to international markers, and competitive oil prices based on prevailing market values," he said in an exclusive interview.

Petrobangla, the oil, gas and mineral corporation, floated the offshore bidding on March 10, inviting international oil and gas companies to explore in the Bangladesh maritime area, in the Bay of Bengal, giving six months' time until September 9, 2024 for submission of the bids.

As per the floated tender, a total of 24 offshore blocks - of which nine are shallow blocks and 15 deep sea blocks - are available for the bidding round.

Cosmos Group is one of the leading private sector conglomerates in Bangladesh. The company has earned a strong reputation at home and abroad in introducing new companies and new technologies. Cosmos has successfully completed numerous supply, turnkey and service contracts on behalf of its respective principals with utmost sincerity and efficiency.

Representing Cosmos Group, Masud Khan said that Bangladesh has launched the offshore licensing round in more than a decade as the energy deficient South Asian nation seeks to attract upstream players back after improving its production sharing contract and fiscal terms.

Appreciating the government's initiative to officially launch the 2024 Offshore Bid Round, he said this offers a slew of incentives designed to attract international investors.

"The engagement of international oil companies (IOCs), albeit belated, opens doors for acquiring valuable data and identifying new growth opportunities," he said.

He mentioned that after lackluster responses to prior licensing rounds and the subsequent exodus of almost all overseas players, Petrobangla appointed the international consulting firm, Wood Mackenzie, to advise it on beefing up its PSC terms in an attempt to reignite exploration.

Meanwhile the renowned Norwegian survey company TGS, in partnership with SLB, signed the contract with Petrobangla to acquire 2D multi-client seismic survey that has widespread coverage across offshore Bangladesh, encompassing more than 75,000 square kilometers across all 24 blocks on offer in the bid round, he added.

Acquisition of this 12,636-line kilometer 2D seismic survey was completed in April 2023. The final PSTM-processed (Pre-Stack Time Migration) products are available now, and the final PSDM (Pre-Stack Depth Migration) products will be available in May.

According to Masud Khan, the mandatory work program for the acreage on offer comprises only 2D seismic surveying and companies can get proportionate relief from their work commitments by purchasing the data for the relevant block(s) from the TGS and SLB joint venture, while exploration over and above that minimum obligation is biddable.

With limited existing offshore Bangladesh data, this new high-quality seismic, combined with the revised PSC 2023, is a critical component for companies to evaluate and submit competitive bids for the blocks on offer in the bid round.

Responding to a question on the contractual framework and the attractive incentives for the investors, the Cosmos DMD said, there are no signature bonuses or royalties, and equipment imports for petroleum operations incur no duty. Additionally, Petrobangla assumes the corporate income tax liability of contractors, further enhancing the attractiveness of investment in Bangladesh's offshore sector.

About the key features of the contract, Masud Khan mentioned that the contractual framework also includes provisions for bank guarantees for the performance of exploration programs, provision for assignment of interest and share transfer, 100 percent cost recovery with a yearly cap of 75 percent, minimum work obligations and biddable work program commitments.

The petroleum profit sharing based on the R-factor, with upper and lower limits and the option to sell natural gas shares in the domestic market to third parties, subject to Petrobangla's right of first refusal are also important elements of the PSC.

Briefly explaining the qualification criteria and access to geological data, Masud Khan said that to ensure the participation of experienced and capable entities, the tender outlines stringent qualification criteria.

"Bidders must demonstrate offshore daily production of at least 15,000 barrels of oil or 150 million standard cubic feet of gas, along with prior global experience in oil and gas exploration and production."

Furthermore, he said, Petrobangla provides comprehensive informational packages to assist interested parties in evaluating the geological prospects of the blocks on offer. These packages, available for purchase, contain essential data such as seismic sections, gravity and magnetic surveys, and geological maps, enabling informed decision-making during the bidding process.

What are the challenges and opportunities? Responding to the question, Masud Khan said that while the initiative holds immense potential for Bangladesh's energy security and economic prosperity, concerns have been raised regarding potential over-reliance on IOCs and future gas pricing dynamics.

"Critics caution against the risk of financial burden and loss of sovereignty over-extracted resources," he said.

He believes that despite challenges, experts foresee opportunities for Bangladesh to leverage offshore exploration to build domestic capacity and negotiate better terms in the future. The engagement of IOCs, albeit belated, opens doors for acquiring valuable data and identifying new growth opportunities.

Although Bangladesh has been predominantly a gas province, if oil were to be discovered and exploited, the price would be determined on the basis of the fair market value prevailing in South and Southeast Asia, he said.

About the implications of the latest discovery for Bangladesh's energy future, he said the discovery of an energy reservoir in the Bay of Bengal by the United States has sparked interest in Bangladesh's untapped natural gas reserves. As one of the largest deltas in the world, Bangladesh has the potential to fully exploit its gas discoveries.

Bangladesh currently generates electricity using a mix of native natural gas, domestic and imported coal, imported oil, imported LNG, biomass, hydropower, and solar power.

Referring to a recent report of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), Masud Khan said natural gas accounts for 49% of the nation's electricity, while furnace oil and coal contribute 32% and 11%, respectively.

Mentioning Petrobangla's reports, he said that the nation boasts 29 gas fields, including the Ilisha gas field in Bhola. Out of the proven and probable gas reserves totaling approximately 29.54 trillion cubic feet (TCF), 20 TCF has already been extracted.

In December 2023, a new oil and gas reserve was discovered in Sylhet, capable of producing 500-600 barrels of crude oil per day. Oil was confirmed at a depth of 1,397-1,445 meters, with gas deposits found at various depths, including a significant reserve yielding 25 million cubic feet of gas flow at a pressure of 3,250 pounds per square inch (PSI).

Officials from Petrobangla estimate the value of these reserves at around 850 billion taka (over 7 billion U.S. dollars), potentially providing energy for more than 15 years. Currently, Bangladesh produces approximately 2,300 million cubic feet of gas per day from 21 gas fields, while around 700 million cubic feet of gas per day is imported to meet market demand.

Responding to a question on Cosmos Group's role in this offshore bidding round and its contribution to the development of Bangladesh's energy sector, he said that Cosmos is proud to be associated with all the major successful explorations and production ventures in onshore and offshore structures for both the IOCs and the NOCs through its international partners in Bangladesh for over the last three decades, and provided all in-country services through one-stop-solutions with services encompassing business development to logistics solutions.

He said that the Bengal Fan is one of the world's largest deep-water fans with significant evidence of working petroleum systems. It is widely considered one of the most extensively underexplored frontier regions. With limited existing offshore Bangladesh data, this new high-quality seismic, combined with the revised production sharing contract 2023 (PSC), is a critical component for companies to evaluate and submit competitive bids for the blocks on offer in the bid round.

"We look forward to continuing the legacy of serving the nation with all our efforts, with the highest integrity, to be a proud partner in the development of Bangladesh," Masud Khan said.

"We are honored to serve the nation, ensuring its energy security through partnering with TGS and Wood Mackenzie for providing the long-awaited Multi-Client Seismic Study in the Bay of Bengal and for the upgradation of the Offshore Model PSC, which are the two vital prerequisites for a successful bidding round," Masud Khan said.

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