State asked to file reply on ONGC’s shale gas project

The Tamil Nadu government has sought time to file a reply before the National Green Tribunal on steps taken by it over the proposal of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) to explore shale gas in the Cauvery delta region.

Hearing arguments on a petition on the issue, the Bench comprising Justice P. Jyothimani, and expert member P.S. Rao, sought to know the State’s position on the proposal. “The government is aware of the issues about the project and is in the process of taking steps regarding that,” E. Manoharan, Additional Government Pleader, informed the court and sought time to file a reply. The Bench posted the matter to October 28.

Counsel for ONGC G. Masilamani said the tribunal did not have any jurisdiction or powers to issue any orders on the issue as the question of getting the Environmental Clearance (EC) for the project had not yet arisen.

MDMK leader Vaiko, representing the applicants, Cauvery Vivasaigal Sangam Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam, requested the tribunal to step in and pass some directions.

“The project, if it takes off, will change the districts from the granary bowl of Tamil Nadu to a begging bowl. The Union government still has not given up the methane gas project. We have come here to seek protection,” Mr. Vaiko said. Justice Jyothimani said permission had not yet been granted to the shale gas project.

“As on date, they don’t have an EC. The issue is before the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC). You can participate in the public hearing and register your views,” the judge told Mr. Vaiko.

Mr. Vaiko again asked the tribunal to pass orders or directions. “We are afraid that they will get the clearance. People are not agitating on imaginary grounds. Hydraulic fracturing (technique) has been banned by many countries. Shale gas is in fact more dangerous,” he said.

Mr. Masilamani said ONGC was a Navratna company and would not indulge in any underhand dealings.

“Shale gas and shale gas oil is an economic property of this country and the government has a right to explore and exploit that,” he said.

Syed Nurullah Sheriff, Senior Standing Counsel for MoEF, said ONGC had EC for 48 ordinary oil wells, but had sought an amendment in the same application to explore shale gas and shale oil. “MoEF said no to the amendment and asked ONGC to file a fresh application for shale gas exploration. This application is in the Terms of Reference (TOR) stage only at the moment,” he said.

When the Bench asked whether the Tamil Nadu government had undertaken any study to find out what would be the impact of the project, Mr. Manoharan said the government was already taking some steps but sought time to file a reply, which the court granted.

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