NGT seeks explanation on drilling for oil in Assam national park

Appeal against environment clearance for the project was filed by two conservationists

Updated - July 22, 2020 05:34 pm IST

Published - July 22, 2020 02:12 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Representational image.

Representational image.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Environment Ministry, Oil India Limited (OIL) and two other entities to explain how the proposed drilling of seven oil wells in an eastern Assam national park was permitted.

The other two respondents are the Assam State Pollution Control Board and the Assam State Biodiversity Board.

The NGT directive on July 20 was based on a petition by Assam-based conservationists Bimal Gogoi and Mridu Paban Phukan against the environment clearance to OIL on May 11 for drilling in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in violation of a Supreme Court order of September 2017.

The NGT’s Eastern Zone Bench comprising Justice S.P. Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nada also took note of the petitioners’ contention that OIL did not carry out a biodiversity assessment study for the seven-well exploratory drilling project besides not conducting a public hearing as mandated by the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006.

The petitioners further contented that the EIA report grossly undermines the risk of the project by stating that the threat due to “blowout” was “negligible”. The NGT noted that the report “only considered the blowout risk applicable to the U.S. and did not give data from India in general”.

The petitions also said OIL suppressed the recent blowout of Baghjan Well No. 5 that has resulted in massive irreparable injury to the environment and the people of the surrounding villages.

The NGT has given the Environment Ministry, OIL and the others 30 days’ time from the date when the order was issued.

Baghjan accident

OIL, battling to cap the natural gas well at Baghjan that had burst into flames a fortnight after undergoing a blowout on May 27, had clarified that its exploratory drilling project was “under” and not “in” the 765 sq km Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

“OIL had obtained permission for the seven wells in 2016 on the basis of the sophisticated ERD (extended reach drilling) technology that will enable us to explore hydrocarbon deposits horizontally, from beyond the national park,” an OIL spokesperson said.

The ERD was extensively used to intersect hydrocarbon targets far from the surface or areas of the reservoir that otherwise were difficult to access. This technology enabled drilling of wells up to a depth of approximately 4 km from an existing well plinth without entering the protected area, OIL officials said.

“Drilling will take place at an average of more than 1.5 km outside the demarcated area of the national park where OIL already is carrying out hydrocarbon exploration since the last 15 years,” the spokesperson said.

On July 20, the NGT had also ordered the formation of a committee to probe allegations of large-scale illegal coal mining by North Eastern Coalfields inside Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam’s Tinsukia district.

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