NEW DELHI: The government has extended the last date of bidding for the 11 oil and gas blocks on offer in the fifth bid round, and decided to merge the next two rounds into one in view of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country.The fifth bid round under Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) opened in January and was to initially close on March 18. However, the bid date was earlier this month extended to April 16. Now it has been further extended.”In view of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the OALP bid Round-V last date for bid submission will be extended. The revised date shall be notified soon,” the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) said in a tweet.So far, the government has awarded 94 blocks in four rounds in the last two-and-a-half years. These 94 blocks cover an exploratory area of about 1,36,800 square kilometers over 16 Indian sedimentary basins.In the latest bid round, about 19,800 sq km of area is on offer for bidding, according to the DGH.Under OALP, companies are allowed to carve out areas they want to explore oil and gas in. Companies can put in an expression of interest (EoI) for any area throughout the year but such interests are accumulated thrice in a year. The areas sought are then put on auction.The fifth cycle of submitting EoIs closed on November 30, 2019, and was followed by the sixth cycle that began on December 1, 2019 and was to last till March 31, 2020. It was to be followed by the seventh cycle from April 1, 2020 until July 31, 2020.”In view of the lockdown due to Covid-19, the EOI cycle for Round VI (ending March 31, 2020) and Round VII (ending July 31, 2020) shall stand merged,” DGH said, adding the EoIs received between December 1 and July 31 will be clubbed and put on offer as a combined bid round.”Bidding round would be launched based on EOIs received till July 31, 2020,” it said.The last bid round, OALP-IV, saw just eight bids coming in for seven blocks on offer. State-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) walked away with all the seven oil and gas blocks on offer.OALP-IV was the first round on revamped terms approved in February 2019.Unlike previous rounds where blocks were awarded to companies offering a maximum share of oil and gas to the government, blocks in little or unexplored Category-II and III basins are now awarded to companies offering to do maximum exploration programme.The 11 blocks under OALP Round-V are spread across 8 sedimentary basins and include eight on land blocks (six in Category-I Basin and one each in Category II and III Basins), two shallow water blocks (one each in Category-I and II Basins) and one ultra deep water block (Category I Basin).At the time of the launch of OALP-V, the DGH had stated that the round is expected to “generate immediate exploration work commitment of around USD 400-450 million”.”An area of 1,36,800 sq km has already been awarded under OALP Bid Round I, II, III and IV. These OALP Bid Round-V Blocks would add further 19,800 sq km. Overall Exploration Acreage of India would then increase to 2,36,600 sq km,” it had said at that time.Of the 94 blocks awarded in the first four rounds of OALP, Vedanta has won the maximum at 51. Oil India Ltd has got 21 blocks and ONGC another 17.All 11 blocks in OALP-V are based on EoIs received during EoI Window-V from May 16, 2019 to November 30, 2019, according to the DGH.