No clear answers from ONGC on oil spill threat

Says people being misled about hydrocarbon project

Updated - July 20, 2017 08:39 am IST

Published - July 20, 2017 08:34 am IST - CHENNAI

Oil leaking through a field at Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur district. File photo

Oil leaking through a field at Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur district. File photo

In a bid to clear the air about its hydrocarbon extraction projects in the State following protests in Kadiramangalam and Neduvasal, ONGC held a meeting here on Wednesday claiming that local people had been misled about the company’s activities. C.N.S. Kumar, deputy general manager, said there were no coal bed methane or shale gas extraction projects planned as being speculated. He also denied any contamination of groundwater or changes in groundwater levels due to oil well drilling activities in Tamil Nadu.

“ONGC has been working in Kadiramangalam for the past eight years and we have taken all necessary safety measures here,” Mr. Kumar said, adding that of a total of 36 lakh acres of cultivable land in the Cauvery basin, only 1,600 acres had been acquired by ONGC to carry out exploratory activities; hence, there was no threat to agricultural activities due to oil and natural gas extraction here.

However, the company failed to come up with convincing answers with regard to the safety and response mechanism in the event of an oil spill. On June 30, due to an oil leak, fertile agricultural lands were contaminated in Kadiramangalam.

Delay in fixing leak

Sriram Ramamoorthy, 42, an organic farmer, told The Hindu that ONGC had acquired a portion of his land on lease way back in 2002, but had not informed him as to what extraction activities would be undertaken there. When the pipeline leak happened last month, a portion of his land and the nearby fields got contaminated.

“The day the oil pipeline leaked onto the fields, people started gathering at the site and both government and ONGC officials arrived. But the clean-up got delayed,”he said.

ONGC officials blamed the locals in Kadiramangalam for the delay in fixing the pipeline leak. When questions regarding safety arrangements were raised at Wednesday’s press meet, ONGC director (Onshore) V.P. Mahawar said their extraction activities were not harming anyone, and that the company had an efficient crisis management team to handle leaks and accidents.

However, when specific details were sought regarding the safety drills and awareness initiatives conducted for residents living in the vicinity of the oil wells, ONGC couldn’t come up with exact figures or dates when these were organised. Mr. Mahawar said that the oil slick that leaked onto the field was highly inflammable. The officials claimed safety drills were conducted monthly for their own staff and annual awareness drives were organised for local communities.

However, Mr. Ramamoorthy told  The Hindu  that in the past 15 years since ONGC had acquired his farm land for digging extraction wells no awareness drives had been conducted for local people here. “Most of us here are clueless as to what is being extracted from these wells. There are farm tractors and heavy vehicles going over the land under which these pipelines carrying combustibles have been laid.” Last month’s leak happened due to a small hole in the pipeline, officials said. These were laid in 2008 and usually have a life of about 15 years. “We have sent the damaged pipeline for inspection to our Mumbai office to ascertain the cause of the leak,” ONGC officials said.

The damaged section of pipeline was replaced on July 3, three days after the leak. Adequate compensation would be paid to affected parties as decided by local revenue authorities, officials said. In 2009, an oil well was abandoned by ONGC in Thiruvarur but it was not sealed properly. ONGC officials said the well had been passed on to GEM Laboratories for restoration work. ONGC operates 700 oil and natural gas exploration wells in the Cauvery basin.

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