“Our clearances were subject to conditions, which were not taken into account by Petroleum Ministry”

The Defence Ministry has rejected the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry’s claim that clearances for 46 oil and gas blocks stuck with its various establishments were cancelled at a later stage, leading to stoppage of work and blockage of nearly $13.5-billion investments.

In an office memorandum to the Petroleum Ministry by Director (Navy-1) Manish Pathak, the Defence Ministry said it had issued the clearances “subject to conditions, which were not taken into account by the Petroleum Ministry while awarding the blocks for exploration and production [E&P] activities. The Ministry had at no stage cancelled the security clearances already accorded, except in blocks overlapping with a ‘strategic base’ of the Navy on the East Coast. Since this strategic base was approved only in 2008, the clearances issued earlier were cancelled,” says the January 18 office memorandum, accessed by The Hindu.

Further, the memo has pointed out, initially there were 73 blocks where the Defence Ministry had objected to E&P activities. After consultations with all stakeholders (the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the DRDO), 27 blocks were cleared. The remaining 46 were subsequently reconsidered for security clearance and 32 cleared with conditions, while the remaining 14 were ‘No Go’ areas. “Thus the Defence Ministry took all possible steps to accommodate the request of the Petroleum Ministry for security clearance.”

Of the 14 ‘No Go’ areas, the Defence Ministry has conveyed that it has no objection to exploration activities in six blocks on the West Coast (Mb-DWN-2005/5; MB-DWN-2005/7; MB-DWN2005/9; MB-DWN-2009/1; MB-OSN-2009/6 and MB-OSN-2009/7) as well as in one block on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (AN-DWN-2005/1), on condition that the areas be made available for naval firings as and when required at a seven-day notice during the exploration process. On completion of the exploration phase, any permanent structure can be erected only after the Defence Ministry’s approval, and security clearance will be required for each stage of production and exploration.

In the remaining seven blocks, three — NEC-OSN-97/2, KG-LSN-2009/4, KG-OSN-2001/1 — being close to DRDO launch pads and two of these NEC-OSN-97/2 and KG-LSN-2009/4 also being objected to by the IAF and four blocks off the Strategic Naval base (KG-DWN-98/3; Kg-DWN-2009/1; KG-OSN-2005/1 and KG-OSN-2005/2) will continue to be ‘No Go’ areas.

In the 32 blocks, the clearance will be subjected to various conditions: exploration firms will not locate any pipeline or structure on sea surface in the blocks cleared for E&P activities; blocks overlapping with naval exercise areas would be subject to all pipelines and structures being located more than 100 metres below sea surface.