Turtles behind Reliance drilling ban offshore Orissa

Vol 8, PW 24 (09 Mar 05) Exploration & Production

Reliance continues to face sustained environment ministry opposition to its drilling programme at NELP-I Mahanadi Basin block MN-DWN-98/2.

A highly placed oil industry source tells us that in January the environment ministry banned Reliance from drilling activity on this block. Behind the ban is continuing concern for Olive Riddley endangered turtles that breed in large numbers along the Orissa coast.

No drilling will be allowed until Reliance carries out research into the impact of exploration on the turtles, we learn. Reliance is upset because of delay to its exploration plans.

Sympathy comes from within the oil ministry. All exploration activity in Mahanadi Basin blocks will be affected, says a ministry source.

This region is very prospective. Deepwater data on migration patterns of turtles is unavailable, argues the oil ministry.

Reliance should be allowed to work in the deepwater blocks at least, he adds. Turtle nesting takes place on the coastline, not in the deep waters.

We can exclude the coastline from exploration activity. A solution is needed fast otherwise we can forget about exploration in these waters.

Under consideration is a meeting of the Inter-ministerial Committee this month. Made up of representatives from the finance, defence, law, environment ministries and the concerned state government, it is headed by the oil ministry and decides PSC-related issues.

Reliance, meanwhile, has hired Orissas Berhampur University to carry out the turtle migration study directed by the environment ministry. The university is carrying out physical observation of turtle migration and is also collecting water quality samples, says an Orissa source.

But this might not be enough. Berhampur University is not recognised by the environment ministry for turtle studies, adds a source.

Theres a feeling Reliance has hired it to manage a favourable report.