Energy

‘Waiving off oil, gas exploration clearance could’ve grave consequences’

Oil and gas exploration poses huge risk to islands, fishing areas, breeding grounds and migratory routes, says CSE expert

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Monday 20 January 2020
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Centre’s decision on January 16, 2020, to waive off environmental clearance (EC) for onshore and offshore gas as well as oil exploration projects could have serious consequences, according to an expert from New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Islands, fishing areas, breeding grounds and migratory routes, could risk serious damage because of the decision.

“Oil and gas exploration is considered to be the most complex among infrastructure development projects. Its consequences are not just restricted to the local environment but a global one,” Digvijay Singh Bisht, deputy programme manager for compliance monitoring at CSE, said.

“In addition, such projects pose a huge risk to islands, major fishing areas, nearest coastal towns, breeding grounds as well as migratory routes. All of this highlights their potency for a global catastrophe. The spilled oil can also settle on the seabed and destroy the ecosystem there,” he added.

The move could have been geared to counter the unreliability of oil from the Persian Gulf region, especially in view of the United States-Iran conflict. This, even as India’s dependence on imported oil and natural gas has been increasing.

Dependence on imported crude oil increased to 83.8 per cent in 2018-19 from 78.3 per cent in 2014-15. Similarly, dependence on imported natural gas increased to 47.3 per cent in 2018-19 from 36.3 per cent in 2014-15, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan told Parliamentary on November 18, 2019.

Moreover, the production of crude oil and natural gas in India has been going down. While crude oil production stood at 37.79 MT in 2013-14, the provisional figure for 2018-19 (April to December) was 25.94 MT.

Natural gas production has come down to 24.65 BCM from 35.1 billion cubic meters (BCM) in 2013-14  according to the ministry’s provisional estimation of 2018-18 (April-December).

“The government plans to reduce fiscal budget spending on oil imports,” Bisht said.

“Due to the unstable nature of West Asia and the second set of sanctions on Iran by the US, India is looking elsewhere for oil. This notification has been brought in order to meet domestic needs in a hassle-free and speedy manner,” he added.

Crude oil imports from Iran have been going down, although the country remains a major exporter of oil to India.

Crude oil imports from Iran witnessed a decline of around 89 per cent between November 2018 and November 2019, according to the Department of Commerce’s Export Import data bank.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) amended the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, through a notification on January 16.

All offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration, development and production projects would have earlier required prior EC from the Centre as ‘Category A’ projects, according to the EIA’s mandate.

This has now been changed to “all projects in respect of offshore and onshore oil and gas development and production except exploration”. All projects in respect of offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration have now been categorised as ‘Category B2’ projects.

Under the EIA, projects are divided into categories ‘A’ and ‘B’, based on their potential impact on health and environment. The projects falling under Category A have to get the EC from the MoEF&CC. Those falling under Category B need to get it from State / Union Territory Environment Impact Assessment Authority.

‘Category B’ is further subdivided into categories ‘B1’ and ‘B2’. Projects categorised as ‘B2’ do not require an EC.

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