Greens target ONGC in West Bengal NELP blocks

Vol 5, PW 13 (15 Aug 01) People & Policy

Not only in Tripura is ONGC facing obstacles from the powerful environmental lobby.

In West Bengal, prominent lawyer and activist Subhash Datta plans to obstruct ONGC's drilling campaign in two blocks it won with Indian Oil in the last licensing round: WB-ONN-2000/1 and WB-OSN-2000/1. Why Datta argues both blocks - offshore and onshore - sit in the Sunderbans Delta, the worlds largest mangrove forest, and a declared wildlife sanctuary.

Local ONGC officials predict a "Trichna-type situation (see above)" as Datta makes clear his intention to file a Public Interest Litigation. It's no empty threat: Datta openly boasts responsibility for 17 local PILs.

He has the backing of six NGOs who have issued a joint statement that if the Sunderbans Delta is opened to oil and gas exploration, the area's wildlife and biodiversity will be affected. In the past West Bengal's powerful environment lobby has successfully prevented Delhi from setting up a nuclear power plant on the western edges of the Sunderbans Delta.

For ONGC, the Sunderbans Delta is an extension of the proven "Chittagong-Samutang" hydrocarbon structure in Bangladesh. Onshore surveys in the Sunderbans Delta are complete, with an offshore survey planned post-monsoon.

"We want to drill four wells in these two blocks," reveals ONGC. "But if we strike gas, we will have problems exploiting it."

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