Reliance Industries (RIL), India's most valuable firm in terms of market capitalisation and owner of world's third largest refinery, will be setting aside up to $15 billion for making world-scale acquisitions in the energy sector besides investing more than $12 billion for development of gas exploration off the country's east coast.

Encouraged by successive years of strong and robust organic growth, Reliance would now change its business strategy from an organic growth model to a mix of organic and aggressive acquisitions-led mode of growth, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani said at a petrochemical conference in Dubai.

The company would be looking at major acquisitions, added Atul Chandra, RIL's president for the international oil business.

Chandra, who participated at the Reuters India Investment Summit last week, did not specify if RIL would be more interested in acquiring upstream exploration or production assets, or in expanding its core downstream refining and petrochemical activities.

RIL's upstream activities are currently focused mainly on exploration, with its producing assets in Yemen and India.

All companies look for acquisitions all the time, but I can say that we would look more seriously from this year onward, Chandra said.

Our growth cannot come only in the organic, Chandra said, adding, We are always looking at opportunities where we find hidden value. If we do something, it will be world scale. It will be a major acquisition no matter what we do. Such acquisitions could be in excess of $10 billion to $15 billion.

Chandra, however, said he was reluctant to pay up for proven reserves.

Getting discovered properties is extremely difficult, even if you get that, they hardly leave any value for you. We cannot acquire for the sake of acquiring, he said.

RIL, which is actively pursuing exploration in West Asia, Asia-Pacific and South America, bought a controlling stake in Mauritius-headquartered Gulf Africa Petroleum Corporation (GAPCO), a petroleum distribution company with a significant presence in East Africa in the petroleum downstream sector, becoming the first Indian company to buy petroleum retail assets outside India.

The acquisition was a strategic one as GAPCO owns and operates large storage terminal facilities in Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania, Mombassa in Kenya, Kampala in Uganda and boasts of a vast retail distribution network operating more than 250 outlets covering retail and industrial segments.

In September last year, the Mukesh Ambani-led company announced that it would acquire ailing Malaysian polyester producer Hualon Corporation Sdn Bhd for a reported sum of $500 million (Rs.2000 crore) – a deal, which would boost RIL's polyester capacity by 25 percent to 2.5 million tons a year.

RIL was also in the news recently for reportedly agreeing to invest $10 billion in Egypt's oil refining, petrochemicals and plastic industries.

However, the company's present focus is on exploration, Chandra said.

You can have the luxury of consolidation when you have something in hand, Chandra said. What happens is that when you start collecting exploration acreages, after a while when you have a portfolio, then we start swapping and consolidating.

Some partial consolidation may start taking place in one year or so, he said.

For the purpose of gas exploration in India, the company has reportedly submitted the development plan to the sector regulator, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, for approval.

RIL plans to spend about $8.8 billion on its biggest find in the Krishna Godavari basin that will yield 80 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of gas beside investing $3 billion to develop the gas fields in the Mahanadi and North East Coast basins over the next four years, according to a company source.

Earlier, E.V.S. Rao, a vice-president at Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd was quoted as saying that RIL would invest $4.25 billion (Rs.17000 crore) on exploration over the next few years.

RIL presently owns eight blocks overseas, including two each in Yemen, Oman and Columbia and one each in East Timor and Australia and eventually hopes to produce some 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil overseas as a part of supply security for the refinery, Chandra said.

In November, the company signed deals with Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government for two onshore blocks, Rovi and Sarta.

In October, a newspaper reported that the refiner was in talks to sign contracts for stakes in two oil blocks in Peru.

This week it signed contracts for two oil and gas blocks in Colombia where it plans to spend $50 million over the next six years.

In a separate development, in March, RIL and state-run gas transporter GAIL agreed to explore options jointly to transport and sell Reliance's gas from its deep-sea fields in the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin and set up city gas distribution networks across Indian cities.

Earlier this month, the two companies signed an initial deal to jointly set up petrochemicals plants overseas.

The decision will enable us to look for opportunities globally on a competitive scale for the petrochemicals business which will further strengthen India's position on the global map, Mukesh Ambani said in a statement.

The company is also reportedly in talks with Kuwait Petroleum Corp for partnering in refining and petrochemicals projects in Kuwait and elsewhere.

Sensex heavyweight RIL hopes to become the largest oil refiner and has spent over $5.6 billion on a 580,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery project in Jamnagar, near an existing 660,000 bpd refinery owned by the company.

Once commissioned in 2008, the complex will become the world's biggest refinery.

RIL is India's largest private sector oil refiner with turnover of $25.51 billion and a market value of over $100 billion. It is India's first and only private sector company to feature in the Fortune Global 500 list of 'World's Largest Corporations' since 2004 and ranks amongst the world's top 200 companies in terms of profits. RIL also emerged in the world's 10 most respected energy/chemicals companies and amongst the top 50 companies that create the most value for their shareholders in a global survey and research conducted by PricewaterCoopers (PwC) and Financial Times (FT) in 2004. RIL also features in the Forbes Global list of world's 400 best companies and in FT Global 500 list of world's largest companies.