Residents oppose the venture fearing water contamination

Amid tight police security in the light of strong opposition by locals, ONGC Limited commenced its exploratory oil drill works at Thirunagari in Sirkazhi on Monday. The locals were protesting against the venture because they were under the impression that the company was carrying out the drilling on behalf of Great Eastern Energy Corporation Limited for methane exploration. They were worried that the exploration would cause groundwater contamination and increase the salinity of the water.

According to Ganesan, husband of panchayat president Kalayarasi Ganesan, the drill was being set up on a site surrounded by pumpset-irrigated agricultural land.

“There was a similar exploration a few years ago, and 16 pumpsets in the area started pumping out saline water. Most agricultural lands had been turned into shrimp farms, and now this would further affect farm lands,” he said.

Three rounds of peace talks were held with the local people so far. Collector Munusamy told The Hindu that the opposition to the drilling was on two grounds. “The first was on the assumption that ONGC was going to extract methane [on behalf of GEEC] and the locals wanted a written undertaking that the drill would not be used for it. Second, the fear of water contamination and increase in salinity.”

During talks, objections of people were addressed. The ONGC had given a written undertaking that the extraction was for oil and not methane, he said. The Water Resources Organisation of the PWD had studied the water quality and gave its findings in favour of the project.

“ONGC is a government undertaking, and the administration can only act according to the law. We have given the consent only after the concerns of the locals were addressed,’ Mr. Munusamy said. “We have made the copies of reports available to the people.”

However, people were not convinced about the approval. “The water sample was not taken in our presence for quality testing,” Mr. Ganesan said adding, “We plan to go on fast.”

According to S.C. Singh, Asset Manager, ONGC Cauvery Asset, the State government departments carried out independent testing and gave their report findings. There were no anomalies in the asset operations and there was nothing to fear, Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

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