ONGC and Oil India accused of damaging environment

Vol 3, PW 20 (27 Oct 99) Exploration & Production

Upstream oil companies seeking guidance on how not to destroy the environment in India could do worse than learn from the experience of Oil India and ONGC.

In the north-eastern state of Assam the two state-owned oil companies stand accused of inflicting potentially catastrophic damage to the environment through the indiscriminate discharge of toxic drilling fluids in streams and paddy fields in the Sibsagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam. Hari Prasad Barthakur, of the Assam Agricultural University, tells the Indian Abroad News Service that Oil India and ONGC lack adequate effluent treatment plants.

"Untreated effluents seeping into paddy field are causing a sharp decline in production and health problems in human beings", said Barthakur. Villagers at Kaliapani, a remote hamlet in Sibsagar, who claim that crude oil and effluents are being discharged into the Kaliapani river, which is used for drinking water, confirm his remarks.

The river reportedly has a thick layer of crude oil on the surface at all times. "Most of the villagers here suffer from tuberculosis, respiratory problems, cancer skin disease and stomach upsets because we drink the oily water", said Hemo Gogoi, a teacher at the Vinojbai Middle School in Kaliapani.

Tea plantations are also affected. "Effluents are being discharged into our garden from about 50 oil wells surrounding our 250 acre site", said Jatinder Singh Jain of the Sibbati tea estate.

Flaring of associated gas is also causing serious thermal pollution. Debojit Baruah, a local ecologist, said the discharge of effluents threatens to make extinct rare medicinal plants and grass species surrounding the oilfields.

KK Jagati, head of ONGC operations in Assam, claims all the prescribed safety measures laid down by the Assam Pollution Board are being observed. Anyone familiar with Indias pollution boards will not be reassured by his statement.