Drilling by ONGC stopped in Mizoram

Company flouts environmental laws. Oil spill kills fish

By Biswendu Bhattacharjee
Published: Sunday 15 May 2011

THE Mizoram State Pollution Control Board has asked the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to suspend exploratory drilling for flouting environmental norms.

The state-owned oil giant ONGC started drilling operations at a place about two kilometres from Meidum village in Kolasib district in February though it did not have an environmental clearance. The stop-work order came after ONGC’s earth-spoil storage, meant to store toxic drilling waste, collapsed on March 22 and polluted the nearby Chhimulang River, a tributary to the Barak River that flows through Bangladesh.

When board officials visited the site on March 24, the oil mixed mud had killed a large number of fish. Board chairperson Lalduhawma says during the investigation it appeared ONGC did not follow environment protection norms. “They have applied for an environmental clearance. But they started work before the Mizoram State Pollution Control Board could conduct a joint inspection with ONGC to give the clearance,” says H Rohluna, the environment minister of Mizoram. The earth-spoil storage was substandard, he adds.

imageThe board has asked ONGC to stop the drilling until the construction of an earth-spoil storage that meets the standards.

As of March 26, ONGC had drilled 1,894 metres into the earth’s crust. Officials say they will have to drill another 4,300 metres, which requires another 300 days of exploration activities, to find oil.

Oil exploration giants in India like ONGC, Indian Oil Corporation and Oil India Limited and firms from Israel, US, France and Russia have been selected through tenders to explore the gas and oil deposits in 12,430 sq km of Mizoram, which is about 60 per cent of the state’s geographical area. As per the agreements, 12 per cent of oil produced and 10 per cent of gas produced will go to the state as royalty.

When asked, Commissioner of the Department of Geology and Mining of Mizoram, Ranwaia, said, “We must appreciate ONGC’s initiative and not have strict regulations considering economic development of a backward state like Mizoram.” There could be more than 170 million metric tonnes of untapped crude reserves in the state, he pointed out.

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