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Oil reserves in salt caverns: The potential in India

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Oil reserves in salt caverns: The potential in India

Context- Government-owned engineering consultancy firm Engineers India (EIL) is studying the prospects and feasibility of developing salt cavern-based strategic oil reserves in Rajasthan, in line with the government’s objective of increasing the country’s strategic oil storage capacity.

If the idea comes to fruition, India could get its first salt cavern-based oil storage facility. The country’s three existing strategic oil storage facilities — at Mangaluru and Padur in Karnataka, and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh — are made up of excavated rock caverns. Countries build strategic crude oil reserves to mitigate major supply disruptions in the global supply chain.

Salt cavern-based reserves v. rock cavern-based reserves

  • Unlike underground rock caverns, which are developed through excavation, salt caverns are developed by the process of solution mining, which involves pumping water into geological formations with large salt deposits to dissolve the salt.
  • After the brine (water with dissolved salt) is pumped out of the formation, the space can be used to store crude oil. The process is simpler, faster, and less cost-intensive than developing excavated rock caverns.

(Credits- Indian Express)

  • Salt cavern-based oil storage facilities are also naturally well-sealed, and engineered for rapid injection and extraction of oil. This makes them a more attractive option than storing oil in other geological formations.
  • The salt that lines the inside of these caverns has extremely low oil absorbency, which creates a natural impermeable barrier against liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, making the caverns apt for storage. Also, unlike rock caverns, salt cavern-based storages can be created and operated almost entirely from the surface.
  • Salt caverns are also used to store liquid fuels and natural gas in various parts of the world. They are also considered suitable for storing compressed air and hydrogen.

Potential in India for storing crude, petroleum products

  • Rajasthan, which has the bulk of requisite salt formations in India, is seen as the most conducive for developing salt cavern-based strategic storage facilities.
  • A refinery is coming up in Barmer, and Rajasthan has crude pipelines as well; such infrastructure is conducive for building strategic oil reserves. However, no Indian company, including EIL, had the requisite technical know-how to build salt cavern-based strategic hydrocarbon storage.
  • This gap in access to technology has been bridged by EIL’s recent partnership with Germany’s DEEP.KBB GmbH — a company that specialises in cavern storage and solution mining technology

Strategic petroleum reserves programme: story so far

  • India’s strategic oil reserves are part of the effort to build sufficient emergency stockpiles on the lines of the reserves that the US and its Western allies set up after the first oil crisis of the 1970s. The three existing rock cavern-based facilities were built during the first phase of the programme.
  • The International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organisation in which India is an ‘Association’ country, recommends that all countries should hold an emergency oil stockpile sufficient to provide 90 days of import protection.
  • In India, apart from the SPR that are sufficient to meet 9.5 days of oil requirement, the oil marketing companies (OMCs) have storage facilities for crude oil and petroleum products for 64.5 days — which means there is sufficient storage to meet around 74 days of the country’s petroleum demand.

Conclusion- Oil storage facilities allow India some maneuver during the times of Oil crisis. For Example, In late 2021, India released 5 million barrels from its strategic reserves as part of a coordinated US-led action by major oil-consuming countries against the joint decision of major oil-producing nations to curb output.

Syllabus- GS-3; Economy; Science and Tech

Source- Indian Express

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