India’s 21 oil and gas blocks that were offered for exploration and production under the sixth round of the Open Acreage Licensing Programme (OALP) have attracted only three bidders.

The three bidders are Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), Oil India Ltd (OIL), and Sun Petrochemicals, reported Press Trust of India (PTI), citing the country’s upstream regulator Directorate General of Hydrocarbons.

Out of the three bidders, ONGC and OIL are state-owned entities.

During the launch of the OALP Bid Round-VI in August, the government had stated that it was expecting an investment commitment of $300m-$400m for exploration.

At the closing of the bidding round on 6 October, ONGC bid for 19 blocks. It was also the only bidder for 16 blocks. OIL placed bids for two oil and gas blocks and Sun Petrochemicals bid for three blocks, competing with ONGC.

Spread over 11 sedimentary basins, the 21 blocks cover an area of 35,346km².

Of the total blocks, 15 are on land, two in ultra deep-water, and four in shallow waters.

By opening up more acreage for exploration, the government expects to boost oil and gas production to help cut down oil import bills of $90bn.

The country’s domestic demand is met by 85% of imported oil.

In the earlier five bid rounds of OALP, 105 blocks were offered for exploration, of which Vedanta won 51, OIL secured 25 and ONGC had 24, among others.

In a separate development, Indian Oil has reportedly deferred a plan to close the Haldia refinery for maintenance to cater to the surging fuel demand during the festival season.

The firm has postponed the maintenance shutdown of the refinery’s 80,000bpd crude unit and some secondary units for at least 15 days to mid-November, reported Reuters, citing two sources familiar with the matter.