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India opens door for oil search

In an effort to reduce its payout for imported oil and to help expand and stabilize its fledgling petroleum industry, the Indian government has opened the door wide for outside help to accelerate oil and gas exploration.

Up to now, two of the country's sources for oil have been shaky. Imports from Iran and Iraq have slackened, impeded by continuing warfare. The flow of domestic oil from the eastern fields of Assam -- where oil was discovered as long ago as 1867 -- has been suspended because of agitation there against "foreigners," the immigrants from Bangladesh labeled illegal.

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Government action in a policy switch late last year opened up not only brand-new areas to international oil companies but also encouraged further drilling in the Bombay High region, 160 kilometers off the coast, where oil was discovered in 1974.This area has been a bright success story for the government's Oil and Natural Gas Commission; Bombay High reserves are estimated at 800 million tons.

So far, major oil companies from Britain, Italy, the United States, West Germany, and F rance have all responded with bids for exploration rights.

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