TN Minister CVe Shanmugam said that the state will not give green signal for the project even if the Centre has granted the requisite permissions.

Controversy over hydrocarbon projects in TN AIADMK and DMK oppose centres planFile image: Protests at Neduvasal in 2017/ Nityanand Jayaraman
news Environment Wednesday, July 03, 2019 - 17:20

Tamil Nadu Law Minister CVe Shanmugam announced in the State Assembly on Wednesday that permission will not be given for hydrocarbon exploration projects in the state. Stating the government's stand, the Minister said that the state will not give green signal for the project even if the Centre has granted the requisite permissions. 

The assurance from the state government comes a day after the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas granted permission to ONGC and Indian Oil to set up hydrocarbon wells in three blocks in Tamil Nadu. As per the Open Acreage licensing policy, a total of 14 blocks have been awarded across India in three rounds of bidding and three of them are in Tamil Nadu. 

These contracts were awarded in the second and third rounds of bidding. The second block which has been awarded to Indian Oil Corporation is 454 sq km long and will have 4 wells. These will be in Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam covering villages -  Madapuram, Tiruppundi, Karaiapattinam and Karuppanpulam.

In the third round, two blocks were awarded to ONGC – one extending from Nagapattinam and Karaikal and the other other in Ramanthapuram district. While the former will be 479 sq km, the second will 1141 sq km.

There will be 11 wells in the first block and 5 in the other. These will be in areas including Kollidam, Thiruthonipuram, Kali, Anandatadavapuram, Tirukkadaiyur, Rettaikudi, Tenangudi and Karaikal.

The concerns regarding these wells include – maintenance and method of exploration. 

Leakages of pipelines as seen in Kathiramangal near Kumbakonam, led to contamination of ground water in the area and caused massive protests in the region.  While ONGC which was responsible for the pipeline attempted to play down the affects of the leak, they failed to convince the public.

The other reason for protests against the wells, date back to 2015, when the Central Government brought a new exploratory policy which granted companies a single license to extract any fuel found and didn’t specify on conventional exploration methods.

“In the conventional method, they use a borewell to remove any natural gas, oil or methane found. Here the fuel has openings through which it comes closer to the surface,” says Sethuraman V, Tamil Nadu Science Forums. “The unconventional method used is fracking. This is the process of injecting liquid at very high pressure into the ground so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. This is done to remove shale gas from the ground when there are no openings for it to rise up,” he adds.

With fracking comes a list of concerns including – contamination of ground water, salinity intrusion and introduction of chemicals into the soil.

“The process requires 15 crore litres of water. Where will that come from?” asks Sethuraman. “In addition to this, creating fissures in the ground and injecting chemical could ruin existing ground water supply,” he adds.

In the face of protests, the state government has maintained that it has not granted permission for more exploratory wells.

"We will not give permission for any projects that harm the environment, including hydrocarbon exploration. Even if the Centre allows, they still need the consent of the state government. Despite the Centre's requests, the state has not agreed to the hydrocarbon project," said Minister CVe Shanmugam in the Assembly on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in the Lok Sabha, DMK MP TR Baalu told the Lower House that farmers in the Delta region are 'suffering for the past three years' due to wells that have been dug for hydrocarbon exploration. In contrast, he pointed out, these wells only yield 0.6 per cent of the total production of 32 million tonnes in India. He specifically used protests in Neduvasal and Kathiramangalam to support his argument.

"We cannot understand why the government is taking up these projects without any application of mind. There is no socio-economic rate of return and there is no financial rate of return. Then how can they go on indulging in this activity of extraction?" he asked Petroleum Minsiter Dharmendra Pradhan. "In 341 areas, drilling is going. We are all agriculturalists. How can we allow this sort of unruly and unlawful act of the government of India?" he questioned.

In turn, the Petroleum Minister acknowledged that there were concerns and apprehensions from a section of farmers in Tamil Nadu. He then invited senior leaders from Tamil Nadu for a discussion.




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