Broad new horizons in key markets are opening for the world’s energy companies. Don’t expect to see a land rush any time soon. China will allow all large domestic and foreign companies to apply for oil and gas exploration licenses that were previously only open to state-owned enterprises, the country’s resources ministry said at a briefing Thursday. In India, regulators will also let private and international companies bid for a group of coal blocks it’s putting up for auction starting this month, the country’s coal and mines minister Pralhad Joshi said this week, chipping away at a near-monopoly enjoyed by state-controlled Coal India Ltd.
A decade or so ago, such announcements might have caused international energy companies to salivate with excitement. All the fear back then was that state-owned giants like Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Petroleos de Venezuela SA controlled all the viable assets to fuel a coming era of ever-increasing fossil fuel demand, leaving listed businesses running out of reserves. How things have changed.
For one thing, it’s national governments rather than independent companies that are now worried about supply shortages. China’s domestic oil production has fallen about 10% since peaking five years ago. India’s coal output is still edging up, but not fast enough to meet demand: Net imports have accounted for about a quarter of consumption in recent years, up from 10% a decade ago.
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