The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) has announced the opening of international bidding of 11 blocks under the Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) for the fifth round. The exploration area is spread across eight sedimentary basins and covers an area of 19,789.04 sq kms. The ultra deep water region in eastern coast of Tamil Nadu is also being auctioned. The other areas under auction include Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal and Odisha, Arunachal and Assam along with western and eastern offshore areas.
The farmers of delta region were protesting against the exploration in the onland areas while the present announcement has set the alarm bells ringing in the fishing community. The Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) implemented in 2016 does not mandate public hearing for the off shore areas.
BIDDING TILL MARCH FOR ROUND-V
The announcement by DGH declares the bidding will be open till March 18, 2020, and the sixth cycle of submission of Expression of Interest (EoI) ends on March 31, 2020. The eight blocks include eight inland and three offshore blocks including the ultra deep water block placed under Category I in the Cauvery region referred as eastern offshore. The total area of the offshore region spread across Karaikal and Puducherry regions is 4064.22 sq kms.
Also read: Why Tamil Nadu Farmers Oppose Hydrocarbon Project?
The fishing community was already agitating against the inland exploration as the storage units were planned close to the sea shore which could limit their access to the sea. The present announcement has created apprehensions among the farmers regarding the negative impacts on fishing and the environmental issues.
OIL SPILLAGES COULD BE REPRESSIVE
The procedural shortcomings and frequent oil spillages in the existing wells across the delta districts have caused severe damage to the crops. The farmers and various farmers’ associations have been protesting against the continuous improper exploration process and have demanded the immediate stoppage of exploration processes across the fertile districts. The fishing community was protesting the move to build a storage unit in the sea shore. They were apprehensive of the supposed denial of fishing rights in the name of marking the region as protected area.
V Sethuraman, executive committee member of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) while speaking to NewsClick said, “The oil spillages in the onland areas across the delta districts have caused irreparable losses to the farmers. The lands have become infertile and pollution of water, land and air has increased in the region. The present announcement of ultra deep water exploration will definitely threaten the fishing community and the aquaculture.”
The offshore blocks do not mandate public hearing much to the angst of the fishing community as they are left with no option to voice their concerns.
CONVENTIONAL OR NON-CONVENTIONAL ENERGY?
The union government is pushing for the introduction of electric vehicles to arrest the increasing climate change. The government has shown interest in new and renewable energy sources but the DGH and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas continues to facilitate the exploration and production of hydrocarbon. Sethuraman added, “The conventional energy sources like coal and crude oil are accused of contributing to the climate change. The thrust is towards the new and renewable energy across the world now.”
The Ministry and HELP has substantially diluted the process of allocation of blocks and relaxed conditions for revenue sharing in favour of the companies. The Vedanta group is the biggest beneficiary of HELP as it has won 51 blocks out of the total 94 blocks allocated so far. The policy of ‘Ease of Doing Business’, too, had ensured large revenue share as well as less royalty to be paid. The companies will also have marketing and pricing freedom in addition to the freedom of selecting the blocks they wish.
Also read: TN Government Against Hydrocarbon Exploration in the State
Given the track record of companies like Vedanta and even Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) or Oil India Ltd (OIL), the chances of spillages can not be ruled out. Any oil spillage in the sea could end up creating severe environmental impacts which could not be irreversible. The state government which had earlier in the Assembly announced the stoppage of extraction hydrocarbon is yet to respond on the announcement of the block for auction.