NEW DELHI, Jan 15: One of Russia's biggest oil and gas players said Saturday the country offers fuel-hungry India vast potential to meet its energy demands.

S.S. Neruchev, vice governor of Russia's giant Sakhalin-I oil and gas field project in the country's far east, said there were plenty of new areas in the region where Indian companies could make fresh investments.

Large areas are being explored in a day so scope for expanding cooperation exists, he told a weekend Indo-Russian oil seminar. The scale of cooperation is not sufficient. It can be much more.

India, which is able to meet only 30 per cent of its crude oil needs from domestic sources, has been exploring new investment opportunities in the oil and gas sector overseas to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies.

India's ambassador to Russia, Kanwal Sibal, said the country's growing oil appetite to feed accelerating economic growth could be met by Russian oil and gas fields to a large extent.

Russia is one of the largest exporters of oil and gas in the world, and India one of the fastest-growing importers, Sibal said. It's therefore appropriate for us to address this complementarity of interests.

The overseas arm of India's state-run ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL) was one of the first to buy a stake in Sakhalin-I and is poised to look at more investments in Russia, Sibal told the forum. OVL has a 20 per cent holding in Sakhalin-I.

Natural gas production from Sakhalin-I is to begin in the third quarter of 2005 while crude production from offshore fields will start in January 2006. More and more Russian and Indian companies are coming together and we are sure more of them will together now, said India's petroleum and natural gas secretary Sushil Chandra Tripathi.

N. Tsukanova of international investment firm J.P. Morgan said India could examine several new investment opportunities in Russia for medium to short-term prospects such as in West Siberia, Timon Pachera and in Russia's Caspian area.

She added India's investments in Sakhalin-I had triggered interest from other big foreign investors such as Shell, BP and Conoco Philips. India is regarded as one of the most dynamic economies in the world, but the growth depends on hydrocarbon resources.

India will become a significant importer and therefore cooperation with Russia is significant, Tsukanova said. India faces a serious energy crunch. It produces over 100 million tons of petroleum and petroleum products annually but can supply only 30 per cent of its oil needs.

It expects to increase domestic oil production by 50 per cent in the next 15 years. But a booming economy means the amount produced domestically is likely to fall to 15 per cent of India's needs. -AFP

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