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While Bangladesh is going slow about marking its deep sea boundary in the Bay of Bengal for the last three years, neighbouring India and Myanmar are busy discovering huge gas reserves in the bay close to Bangladesh territory.

South Korean oil company Daewoo International along with its Indian and Myanmarese partners has discovered about 7.7 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of exploitable gas in three blocks in the Bay of Bengal near the Bangladesh border, according to an AFP report.

A Daewoo spokesman told AFP that the size of the reserves is a record for Myanmar, and certified by international consultants Gaffney, Cline and Associates.

The reserves were certified as between 4.5 and 7.7 tcf, he said.

Daewoo has a 60 percent stake in the fields. The state-run Korea Gas Corp owns 10 percent and the remaining 30 percent is held by two Indian firms -- Gail India and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

Daewoo hopes to supply 600 million cubic feet of gas per day, or 3.7 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas per year for up to 25 years, the spokesman said.

The company also said it would be cheaper and quicker to pipe the gas to neighbouring countries. "We are in talks with potential buyers in China, Thailand and India," the spokesman said.

Earlier on January 15, Indian newspaper Business Standard reported that India's east coast is emerging as one of the hydrocarbon hotspots in the world with 100 tcf of gas and two billion barrels of oil in place.

Two main basins in the Bay of Bengal -- Krishna-Godavari and Mahanadi -- have shown a potential of nearly 18 billion barrels of oil equivalent gas in place.

Earlier, Canadian company Hardy Oil along with ONGC and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) announced major oil and gas discoveries in the southernmost basin in the area--Kaveri basin.

Official sources quote a figure of 100 tcf for gas reserves in the region but unofficial estimates peg the reserves at 200 tcf. This, says a report by equity brokerage house CLSA, could put India in the league of top 10 natural gas producers in the world.

Bangladesh government has been planning to hold its own off-shore oil and gas exploration bid. Though the government did not even make any primary preparations with basic seismic data, it has identified some offshore blocks for this bid.

Locations of some of the off-shore blocks overlap the maritime region of India and Myanmar.Similarly. some of the off-shore blocks of Myanmar and India, where exploration activities are now going on, overlap Bangladesh's maritime region.

Last year, The Daily Star ran a story on Bangladesh government's indecision about marking its deep sea boundary.

An inter-ministerial technical committee headed by the foreign ministry formed three years ago could not complete the task. This committee comprises members from Petrobangla, Geological Survey of Bangladesh, the Navy, Spaarso, Inland Water Transport Authority and Surveyor of Bangladesh.

The committee was to recommend to the government how to mark the deep sea territory fulfilling requirements of the United Nations and as per the law of the sea.

While this committee went into hibernation, the Indian government in early 2006 launched the sixth licensing round under its New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP-6) offering 55 blocks including 24 deep water blocks.

According to the block acreage map published by Indian government, larger parts of blocks D-23 (8706 sqkm) and D-22 (7790 sqkm) appear to have fallen inside Bangladeshi deep waters far below the coast of the Sundarbans.

Both these blocks are situated right below block 21 of Bangladesh, as was floated in the second round block bidding.

International law allows each country to have 200 nautical miles from its coast to the sea to enjoy rights. But this is a tricky matter as the coasts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar follow a curve which imply overlapping of territory. As per international practices, in such a case, neighbours should inform each other and reach a mutual understanding before exploring such gray areas.

As there had been no exploration in the deep waters of the bay, a scientific survey in June and July last year conducted by a German geo-scientific and natural resources institution-- BGR-- primarily found for the first time the presence of sedimentary rock oolite or carbonate in the south-western bay, which indicates the potentials of oil and gas there.

Sources said oolite was detected at a depth of 125 metres off the Sundarbans coast. Samples extracted by scientists show the oolite has a layer of 6 metres in depth.

The sonar map produced by the survey shows the presence of oolite extending to off-shore blocks 21b and 20 b. "But this study was not aimed at detecting mineral resources. So, specific and further studies will determine how extended the oolite layer is, which will also indicate actual potential of oil and gas reserve there," said one source.

But the government did not follow up such accidental discovery till date.

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