Neduvasal Hydrocarbon drilling: Why the silence and lack of transparency?

TNM spoke to DG Hydrocarbons, GEM Labs and ONGC. But many questions remain unanswered.
Neduvasal Hydrocarbon drilling: Why the silence and lack of transparency?
Neduvasal Hydrocarbon drilling: Why the silence and lack of transparency?

“Who are these people opposing the hydrocarbon project? Do they know anything about it? Have they studied it?” This is how Minister of State Pon Radhakrishnan responded when asked about the ongoing protests in Neduvasal village of Tamil Nadu against a hydrocarbon exploration and expansion project.

The minister’s jibe was perhaps aimed at farmers who have been spearheading the protest, assuming they do not know anything about science or petrochemicals. This reaction is not an isolated one. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan refused to speak on the project when questioned about it on the sidelines of an event.

The contract for the project, which the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee has given a nod to, has been given to GEM Laboratories Private Limited.

GEM, a company based out of Davangere in Karnataka, will explore an area of 10 sq. km in the Neduvasal area, where ONGC has already explored and found hydrocarbons.

Lack of transparency

A press release on the ‘Discovered Small Fields Bid 2016’ merely says that the project has been given to GEMS. ONGC had conducted exploration in this area in 2009 and sunk more than one well. But, there is no clarity on which is the 10 sq km area where the exploration will be held.

Various government reports on the Discovered Small Fields says that permission will be given to companies to explore all kinds of hydrocarbons such as shale, tight rock, coalbed methane (CBM), etc.

So, what will be explored in Neduvasal? Is it shale? Is it methane? Is it crude petroleum oil?

GEMS Laboratories Private Limited told TNM that the exploration would be for crude petroleum oil, but there is no confirmation from the government. 

What is the technology that will be used? No answers

The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, an independent regulatory body that manages hydrocarbon resources in India, had marked 44 areas in the country as hydrocarbon rich, among which Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu and Karaikal in Pondichery fall in or are near to the fertile Cauvery basin.

There is fear that if the project goes ahead, the oil will be extracted using a method called fracking and farmers are concerned that this will destroy their lands.

In fact, in 2015, the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a resolution disallowing fracking for extraction of shale gas.

Shale gas is natural gas that is trapped within shale formations, which are essentially fine-grained sedimentary rocks. The process of extracting shale gas from the rocks is known as hydraulic fracking.

TNM asked DG Hydrocarbons and GEM about the technology.

“We have not decided what the technology used will be. The government has not yet given us the 2D and 3D data on the exploratory well. Once we receive it, we will first clean that well and decide if further exploration can be done in that well. We will also study the rest of the 10 sq km area. If there are resources to be tapped, a team of consultants will decide on the technology,” said Hariprasad, a director at GEMS labs.

However, GEM labs insisted that there would be no shale exploration in Neduvasal.

Mahendra Pratap, Deputy General of Explorations (DG Hydrocarbon) said, “The technology is not mentioned. That will be decided later.”

However, a source at ONGC said that there was no fracking involved, but only conventional drilling for oil will be used.

If that is indeed the case, then why can’t the government just spell it out?

Even a press release by the Petroleum ministry on Monday dismissing all ‘rumours ’ does not mention how the exploration will happen, the area or the technology involved. It talks about gas, shale, oil and methane, leaving people to guess.

The protest has intensified as people in the village have seen how the existing exploratory wells have damaged the ecosystem. Any assurance with all details of the project spelt out may still not be able to pacify farmers. Will the government engage with them?

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