Aiyar steps in to help solve Olive Ridley turtle row

Vol 8, PW 26 (06 Apr 05) Exploration & Production

Endangered Olive Ridley turtles on Indias east coast have found an unexpected ally in Indias oil minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

PETROWATCH learns that Aiyar is taking a personal interest in the row between the oil and environment ministries over the impact of exploration drilling on the marine habitat of Olive Ridley turtles and has called a meeting on 21st April to discuss the matter and find a solution. Present at the meeting will be officials from the oil and environment ministries as well as oil companies Reliance, Oil India, ONGC, GAIL and Gazprom - all of whom are affected by the ongoing controversy.

Impetus for the meeting came after the environment ministry issued an order in January this year banning Reliance from drilling in the Mahanadi basin until detailed studies have been carried out on turtle migration and nesting patterns along the Orissa coast. In February Reliance hired Berhampur University in Orissa to carry out a study but the environment ministry is not convinced.

The environment ministry wants all such studies to be led and coordinated only by its own Wildlife Institute of India, reveals a source. Some at the environment ministry believe operators could manipulate the results of studies carried out by outside agencies.

Reliance will have to either call off its study with the Berhampur University or get the environment ministry to certify that universitys credentials for the study. Crucially, the 21st April meeting will, designate the Wildlife Institute of India as the nodal agency and will also develop clarity on the whole issue of economic development versus environmental concerns as regards drilling for oil and gas in the Mahanadi Basin.

Also on the agenda will be the scope and time frame for such studies. Operators should not face unnecessary delays waiting for environment ministry clearances.

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