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Domestic gas prices may rise as govt explores floor price mechanism

<p id="content">CNG and piped natural gas prices could face an increase this festive season if the government implements a new floor price mechanism for gas produced from domestic fields by companies such as Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

Sources said the petroleum ministry is considering a proposal under which domestic gas will have a floor pricing that would prevent fuel prices from crashing below an identified threshold in the current subdued market conditions and insulate oil and gas explorers like ONGC from a tariff crash.

Talks are on to link gas prices with price Japan-Korea Marker, a benchmark index used to determine LNG tariff in North Asia with a discount.

With JKM prices hovering over $ 5 million British thermal units (mmBtu) even with day $ 1 mmBtu discount, the Indian gas floor price under this formula will be close to $ 4 mmBtu. This is much higher than the government administered price of $ 2.39 mmBtu for the April-October, 2020 period. And if implemented, it could increase the cost for all gas consumers.

"Nothing has been finalised on having a gas floor price as of now. A panel in the petroleum ministry is looking at various options and the best course would be adopted that has little impact on consumers but also supports oil and gas companies with remunerative and sustainable gas prices."

The average cost of gas production for the country's largest public sector oil company ONGC is about $3.7/mmBtu, much higher than the current regulated price of natural gas at $2.39/mmBtu. This is expected to fall further to about $1.9/mmBtu for the next six months beginning October 1 under the current formula, sources said.

Lower gas prices is bad news for ONGC as it would mean further suppressed margins and losses. The company is set to lose close to Rs 6,000 crore on low gas prices this year, brokerages have said.

Brokerages have put ONGC's FY22E gas price at US$3.6-4.2/mmbtu depending on discount to JKM price if the new floor price is implemented. With Low L NG liquefaction capacity addition ahead, JKM spot futures for FY22-FY26E are expected at US$5.2-5.8/mmbtu vs US$4.7-4.1/mmbtu in FY20-FY21E.

Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said earlier that India will phase out price controls in natural gas and make it market-linked soon.