Green light for $1.18bn drilling at Oil India

Vol 26, PW 11 (18 May 23) Exploration & Production

Seven years after it was first proposed, Oil India's plan to drill 367 development wells in Assam is set to begin after the environment ministry's Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) recommended it for clearance.

But while recommending clearance, the EAC stressed an important caveat: no court cases should be pending against either campaign. A general condition of environmental approval is that it is granted subject to the outcome of any court cases in the Supreme Court, high courts, National Green Tribunal or other courts as applicable.

That said, the EAC recommendation came through on May 3 (2023) after Oil India resubmitted its proposal on April 24 (2023) with replies to all queries. Delhi-based environmental consultant ERM India made a detailed presentation at the May 3 (2023) online meeting, answering all questions.

"The committee found our proposal in order," confirms an Oil India source. "This is an important project for Oil India in the Assam-Arakan basin; we want to start work soon."

He adds the two drilling campaigns will take up to seven years. The estimated Rs9734cr ($1.18bn) project includes 294 development wells in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts under the Nahorkatiya Extension, Tinsukia Extension, Hugrijan, Chabua, Borhapjan, Dumduma and the Hugrijan Extension PMLs.

Oil India also plans to drill 73 development wells in the Dibrugarh, Sibsagar and Charaideo districts under the Moran, Moran Extension, Dholiya and some portions of the Dumduma (Block-A) PMLs. Oil India originally submitted the proposal for both campaigns in 2016 and received the Terms of Reference (ToR) from the environment ministry on April 29 (2017).

But its latest public hearings on August 24 (2022) at Rajgarh and on August 26 (2022) at Duliajan faced objections from environmentalist Bimal Gogoi, who raised two technicalities in letters written to Assam's pollution control board. Gogoi raised doubts about the ownership of the public hearing venue and complained that the hearings were held only in Duliajan and Rajgarh, both in Dibrugarh district.

According to him, Oil India should have held public hearings in all four districts targeted for drilling.