Kathiramangalam's worst fears have come true. Activists claims that tests conducted on samples of soil and groundwater in Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam have confirmed that operations by ONGC and CPCL in the delta region are indeed harming the environment.
Following the oil spill on June 30 in the village, seven samples were collected from areas where ONGC operations were underway or abandoned in these three districts. They were tested in CVR laboratories, a private centre approved by the government, for hydrocarbons.
Ideally agricultural lands and soil should have no trace of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPH). But tests revealed that samples from a farm in Thirunpunjai, Thiruvarur district, which was allegedly subjected to an oil spill 10 years ago, were the most contaminated. Two samples from here contained 1760 mg/kg and 2983 mg/kg of TPH respectively.
In Kathiramangalam meanwhile, samples were collected from the epicentre of the leak and from 50 feet away from the spill. The soil taken 50 feet away was mixed with rain water and contained 438 mg/kg of TPH and the soil from the epicentre contained 1118 mg/kg.
"The tests have proved that ONGC is lying about its operations and that its activities have caused contamination to land and groundwater," says Nityanand, the environmentalist who released the test results. "ONGC, which claims it rushed to remediate areas where there was a spill, will now have to answer why Kathiramangalam and Thirunpunjai have still shown such alarming traces of TPH," he adds.
To make matters worse, the site of the oil spill in Kathiramangalam is allegedly yet to be cleaned. Officials reportedly told the owner of the land, Sriram Ramamoorthy, to clean the field himself. "How will we know how to clean all that?" asks Kasthuri, a farmer from the village. "ONGC has ruined our water and we are already poisoning our children knowingly or unknowingly," she added.
Activists and villagers are now demanding that an independent third party audit of the environmental impact of ongoing hydrocarbon activities be conducted and remediation of contaminated sites be done at ONGC's cost.
Piyush Manush, an environment activist, said that they are planning to give ONGC 10 days to respond to the tests. "If they don't respond, we will be filing a private complaint with the local magistrate. ONGC officials and District authorities who allowed them to conduct these operation will both be questioned for what is happening in the Delta region," he warned.