By Nidhi Verma and Promit Mukherjee
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Global oil and gas majors are looking to India, the world's third biggest oil importer, to buy some of their excess liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the South Asian nation improves its gas infrastructure and strives to reduce emissions.
Spot LNG prices have more than halved since last year due to oversupply as producers battle for market share.
The Indian market looks set to grow, however.
The country is investing $60 billion in gas infrastructure, including setting up cross-country pipelines and LNG import terminals to connect gas-starved regions to supply hubs.
Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has said that by the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's current term in 2024, India will be ready with a cross-country natural gas grid.
"India is emerging as a major demand centre for gas. India is going to be a very exciting market ... We see it as an important energy market for decades to come," Peter Clarke, senior vice president of global LNG at Exxon Mobil Corp told Reuters at the India Energy Forum by CERA Week, on Monday.
Exxon signed a memorandum of understanding with India's biggest state-owned oil refining company Indian Oil Corporation Ltd on Monday to explore "new models of delivering cost-effective natural gas in India."
"We see great potential here," Bill Davis, lead country manager of South Asia at ExxonMobil, said in a statement.
Exxon also has a deal to supply LNG to Petronet LNG Ltd, India's biggest gas importer, under a long-term agreement from its Gorgon Project in Australia.
India currently consumes 166 million standard cubic metres per day (mscmd) of gas out of which half is met through LNG imports, according to government data.
India's current gas consumption is not a true reflection of its demand potential as the nation lacks infrastructure to transport gas. Most of its LNG import infrastructure is located in the western part, leading to higher gas consumption there compared with the rest of country.
Total SA said on Monday it was buying a 37.4% stake in private Indian gas distribution company Adani Gas Ltd. The French company also said it would explore opportunities in Adani Group's LNG terminals in the east and west coast.
"We want to bring competitive LNG to India," said Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne.
Pouyanne added that one of the reasons Total recently bought a major LNG project offshore Mozambique was because the project was "perfectly positioned to deliver LNG to India very efficiently."
Total has committed to investing $600 million in India's gas business and "there is more to come," Pouyanne said.
India's gas demand is expected to double to 75 billion cubic metres by 2030, energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie said on Monday.
LNG will account for half of this demand, or equivalent to 10% of today's global LNG market, the consultancy firm said.
Global majors are also bullish on India's domestic gas production and hope it will complement imported LNG to meet the growing need of cleaner fuels than coal and oil.
India allows companies to charge higher prices for natural gas produced from difficult and challenging fields.
"I believe that there is close to 100 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas resources yet to be found below ground here in India," said Bob Dudley, CEO of British oil firm BP Plc.
BP, in a tie up with Reliance Industries, is investing $5 billion in India's east coast to produce gas starting in April or May 2020, he said.
"That in itself can meet half of the natural gas demand out to 2050," Dudley added, referring to India's gas reserves.
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Mark Potter and Lisa Shumaker)