Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Black Gold Aplenty

by Sunday Observer, Colombo, November 07, 2005

Question: Can you pin- point specifically the high potential areas where you may find oil in Sri Lanka?

Answer: If you draw a line across the map of Sri Lanka from Chilaw to Trincomalee, our major oil fields are on the north of that line. That's where much of the Cauvery Basin deposits are. There are prospects of oil along the coast from Chilaw to Jaffna and from Jaffna to Trincomalee both onshore and offshore in very shallow waters. An arm of that deposit is extending parallel to the Eastern coast.

Dharmasiri Weerasinghe is a leading engineer in the oil exploration industry. During his career spanning more than three decades, he has worked for some of the biggest multi-national corporations in the business. He has successfully explored oil from the foot- hills of Andes in Colombia to the deep sea sites in Angola. At present he is engaged in oil fields close to the Red Sea in Egypt.

For him oil exploration is like mining for gems. For instance, one could hit oil in an abandoned well, like one could find the most precious blue sapphire in an abandoned gem pit. For instance, the oil test wells hopelessly left by the Russians nearly four decades ago at Pesalai in Mannar, could perhaps now indicate that they possess large reservoirs of oil, if the tests are done applying modern technology.

According to him, Sri Lanka's ancient sedimentary rock formations contain more oil and gas than the country's present needs.

Weerasinghe received his early education at Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya and did his higher studies at Kiev Technical University in the former Soviet Union and Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. He has worked for Bechtel Corporation, Kellogg's Construction Corporation, Partec Lavalin of Canada, Foster Wheeler Corporation and Halliburton, prospecting for oil.

The following were some of the questions asked and answers given during an exclusive interview with him in Colombo on the eve of his departure to London after a short vacation in Sri Lanka.

Question: Dharmasiri, with all your oilfield development experience do you think that we in Sri Lanka have a high potential for hydro-carbon reserves?

Answer: Yes, I definitely think so. Sri Lanka, according to my estimates, does have more reservoirs of hydrocarbon, i.e. liquid petroleum and gas, to meet more than the country's present needs.

Three factors lead me to come to this conclusion. Satellite surveys, which are considered not very definitive have been done by a Swedish firm, called Petroscan, and they indicate we share the Cauvery Basin deposits that are also shared by South India.

Geological studies of the US Geological Survey confirm that Sri Lanka has some of the best oil reserves in South Asia. Meanwhile India is successfully producing oil in South India from the same Cauvery Basin reserves of which Sri Lanka possesses the greater quantity.

Furthermore, some seismic tests conducted by the Norwegians also indicate that the same reserves are extending off-shore to the South of Sri Lanka, near Hambantota.

Question: Can you pin- point specifically the high potential areas where you may find oil in Sri Lanka?

Answer: If you draw a line across the map of Sri Lanka from Chilaw to Trincomalee, our major oil fields are on the north of that line. That's where much of the Cauvery Basin deposits are. There are prospects of oil along the coast from Chilaw to Jaffna and from Jaffna to Trincomalee both onshore and offshore in very shallow waters. An arm of that deposit is extending parallel to the Eastern coast. I would call them secondary deposits since major deposits are in the North.

Question: So, what you are telling us is that our prime deposits are in the North and the secondary deposits are in the South?

Answer: Yes, this is according to the published reports available to anybody. I see seismic reports conducted by the Norwegians off the shore of Hambantota. But I would like somebody to conduct seismic tests onshore in the South. There may be large deposits on shore too.

Question: What are seismic tests?

Answer: Seismic tests are conducted by explosions and echoing these sound waves against the rock formations inside the earth. We get several echoes in an area and feed them to a computer. The analysis of the data could indicate where exactly the deposits of liquid petroleum, water and gas seperately are.

Question: According to you, both India and Sri Lanka are sharing the same Cauvery basin deposits of oil and gas. Which country is having larger oil and gas deposits?

Answer: If one goes by reports published by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Sri Lanka owns the larger portion of the Cauvery Basin deposits.

Question: You said certain things about the initial satellite reports of our potential oil fields. What is the next step we should take based on those reports?

Answer: Satellite reports are broad brush reports which indicate sedimentary basins and basement topography. In making these reports in Sri Lanka, US Navy's Geosat, European Space Agency's ERS-1, and US-France owned Topex/Poseidon have been used. Going by those reports we should proceed to do seismic studies.

Question: Have you seen any seismic reports of Sri Lanka in relation to its oil potential?

Answer: Yes, but only the Norwegian seismic reports conducted offshore of Hambantota. But there are no published seismic reports in relation to our oil fields in the North.

Question: Could it be possible that the Norwegians are not in the know about Sri Lanka's Northern deposits and only know about the South?

Answer: I do not believe so. To any prospector, the Northern deposits are quite obvious.

Question: So, only seismic reports of Sri Lanka's secondary deposits are available?

Answer: Yes, what the Norwegians have done are off-shore Hambantota seismic reports. Sri Lanka is situated across the same hydrocarbon belt running from the Middle East to Indonesia. Offshore extracting of oil is more expensive than onshore extracting. I would prefer to do these seismic studies in the Deep South, onshore.

Question: You are a citizen of the United Kingdom now. There was an oil boom in that country, sometime back, when they struck oil in Scotland. The United Kingdom is a unitary state like Sri Lanka.

Do you think that this status helped Britain to share its newfound wealth equally with all its citizens?

Answer: Definitely, yes. Although they found oil in Scottish waters the wealth was distributed among the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, and the English. The prosperity was shared by everybody. The situation would have been different if the country was not a unitary state.

Question: Dharmasiri, you have about three decades of experience in oil prospecting? What are your recommendations about exploring our oil?

Answer: When we explore and get our oil I will strongly recommend joint ventures with companies possessing the best available technology in the world. By using such high technology I struck oil in an abandoned test well left by the French many years ago in the foot hills of the Andes in Colombia. Today the wells are producing very profitably.

Some wells in South India are not producing as much as they could since the Indian technology used is not very advanced. Only big companies have such advanced technology. We must get into business by starting joint ventures with big experienced and accountable companies so that the best available means could be used.

The well I am developing in Egypt is done with British Petroleum. In the joint venture Egypt would get 51% and BP 49%. The upfront cost for oil prospecting is so high that it is the best method we must follow. Sri Lanka should avoid mushroom companies.

Question: When exploring oil the environment could be damaged. What could we do to avoid this by learning from the mistakes of others?

Answer: Once again, technology comes in here. Today, big oil companies do get their oil with zero emissions to the environment. No gas is released to the air by burning or otherwise. No liquid is discharged to the water or earth. Small mushroom companies would lack this capability.

Question: More than three decades ago at Pesalai, the Russians did not find oil but gas. If we strike only gas in the North could it be profitable?

Answer: Certainly yes. In today's need for energy gas could be extremely profitable. With minimal processing at the well, gas could be immediately converted to electricity and probably added to the national grid. In India many industries have been established around such gas wells.

Question: Would you love to come and work in prospecting oil in your own motherland?

Answer: Certainly yes. I am reaching my retirement age very soon. I would love to spend my whole retirement helping my motherland.

Eelamnation Comments:

Tamils have been publicly saying there are oil and gas deposits in the NorthEast. The NEPC, Interim administration, or the ISGA will conduct negotiations without the typical "bribery and corruption deals" of Colombo, so that when energy resources are available it would be used to the benefit of the people of the region and thereafter excess amounts would be exported. Local taxes also would be levied by the local authorities.

The LTTE military will protect and safeguard the wealth and energy resources so that others would not steal it from the people with corrupt deals. This would never be permitted, even if the US, India, and EU intervene as all these 27 powerful countries have shown keen interest and absolute haste in cutting " corrupt deals" with Colombo before the LTTE and the Tamils are aware of the "real potential."

Tamils are not Africans in general, or Nigerian-Biafrans in particular, and therefore Tamils should be careful not to permit a BIAFRA type situation to develop, as History tends to repeat itself, if one is not careful.

Tamils should encourage the Singhalese to pursue the secondary deposits South of Chilaw and Kataragama and enjoy the benefits exclusively, as they are enjoying the benefits of Tea, Rubber, Cocunut, Cocoa, Spices, and Gems in the South. The only results of such exports the Tamils have seen are the Billion dollars a year spent by the GOSL on their Singhala armed forces, which are used to attack and kill the Tamils.