Andhra holds public hearing on Vedanta gas project amid surging COVID-19 graph

The hearing was scheduled for December 17, 2020 but was cancelled after people resisted

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Friday 16 April 2021

Andhra Pradesh government conducted a public hearing April 12 for a Rs 650 crore onshore oil and gas project by Cairn Oil & Gas, a unit of Vedanta Ltd amid a sharp and unprecedented increase in the number of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in India. 

The hearing was held in Kaza village in Krishna district at 11am and was attended by around 150-200 people, according to sources present at the hearing.

“Guidelines by the Union home ministry and Andhra Pradesh government restrict the number of people in a gathering to 100. The public hearing was held in violation of these guidelines,” said advocate Somasekhar Vaddi.

The hearing was scheduled for December 17, 2020 but was cancelled after people resisted the idea of a congregation amid the pandemic.  

Vedanta is planning to develop 35 wells in the Kaza oil and gas block of Krishna-Godavari basin using the controversial hydro-fracture technique (also called fracking).

A local farmer and lawyer from Machilipatanam village in Krishna district, Ramakrishna Chalamalasetty, had approached the high court of Andhra Pradesh at Amravati to stop the public hearing on the day it was held. He told Down to Earth:

We had approached the court with a writ of mandamus, asking the court to order the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, the district collector and revenue officials of Krisha district to stop the public hearing amid the rising COVID-19 cases. But our writ was returned the same day and we were directed to file public interest litigation.

The Kaza block earlier belonged to Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. The ONGC had drilled three exploratory wells in 1985 and discovered gas in one of them.

The block was awarded to Vedanta under the discovered small fields (DSF) policy in 2019.  The company is planning to employ the controversial hydro-fracture technique, also known as “fracking” to develop the well. 

“Based on the data obtained from the successful gas well, the reservoir properties are moderate. It was noted that further gas extraction is possible through hydro-fracture of the well,” the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report dated October 2020 for the Vedanta project, said. 

The farming community, however, is stifly resisting the project, according to Bandar revenue divisional officer N Sk Khajavali.

Vaddi, who is also Ramakrishna's advocate, said:

The project proponents have not appraised the people of the pros and cons of the project, as required under the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2006. This is a huge project which will affect around 35 villages, but the EIA report of the project doesn’t mention any demographic data on how many people will be affected. We are planning on filing the PIL now.

The Kaza block is leased to Vedanta Ltd under the Hydrocarbon Exploration Licence Policy (HELP), 2016. Under this policy, the lease holder is free to explore and produce oil and gas anywhere in the lease area using conventional and unconventional oil and gas extraction technologies. 

The fracking process requires millions of gallons of water but Vedanta’s EIA report mentions much lower volumes of water usage for the project, K Babu Rao, former chief scientist at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, told Down to Earth.

“Do we have the expertise to assess the impact of a fracking project? The project will negatively impact the water and agriculture in the region. Plus there is a lot of plagiarism in Vedanta's EIA report from previous assessment reports,” he said, adding that permissions for water use should be obtained before applying for environmental certificate.  

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