Environment ministry reversal on Reliance drilling

Vol 6, PW 17 (23 Oct 02) Exploration & Production

RELIANCE MUST HAVE heaved a sigh of relief on 18th September when the environment ministry in Delhi issued a Notification making it easier to carry out offshore exploration beyond 10-km from the shore without permission.

The environment ministry's notice said it was invoking central government powers, "in the public interest", to waive the "requirement of notice" under the Environment Protection Rules, 1986 for "offshore exploration activities beyond 10-km from the nearest habitated village boundary, gaothans (hamlets) and ecologically sensitive areas such as mangroves (with a minimum area of 1,000-sq km) corals, coral reefs, national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, reserved forest and breeding and spawning grounds of fish and other marine life." Simply put, it means that whatever the rules say, companies no longer need to issue a public notice inviting objections ahead of offshore exploratory work beyond a certain distance from the shore. Had the directive stayed, Reliance would have benefited most because it is embroiled in a row with the environment ministry over drilling without environmental clearance at its eastern offshore deepwater block KG-DWN-98/3.

Sadly for Reliance, the environment ministry has changed its position! In an intriguing reversal, the ministry on 26th September issued a second notification cancelling its 18th September note. "Inadvertently some mistakes crept into the notification dated 18th September, which the central government consider should be rectified in the public interest." In short: the relaxation in rules announced in the 18th September notification was only a draft, not yet final.

Read on.