Vol 3, PW 7 (28 Apr 99) People & Policy

Will India ever set up effective oil spill response centres Thats a question many were asking at Oil Spill Response 99, a seminar hosted at the luxury Oberoi hotel in Mumbai on 19 and 20 April.

The event was sponsored by ONGC, Oil India, Reliance, Essar, Enron and other state-owned PSUs. ONGC reckons Oil Spill Response 99 will lead to the setting up of rapid oil spill response centres at Bombay, Kakinada and Vadinar, managed by an independent body set up by an act of parliament.

"It will soon be mandatory for everybody in the oil industry in India, whether you are in upstream or downstream, to contribute funds to this body," an ONGC official tells Petrowatch. The impetus for an oil spill seminar came in 1993, following a 1,600 tonnes oil spill in the Arabian Sea from the rupture of a riser on a Bombay High platform.

Soon after, a proposal to set up Oil Spill Response Centres - in typical bureaucratic fashion - shuffled back and forth between ONGC and various ministries. State oil companies then took matters into their own hands and raised 2m rupees ($47,000) to host a seminar.

In 1996, the United States embassy agreed to contribute to make good any shortfall. India's nuclear tests in May 1998 saw the US embassy back out, but by then the state-run Oil Industries Safety Directorate succeeded in prodding oil companies to proceed with a seminar.

ONGC officials reckon it will be another two years before the independent body is set up. In India, measures to tackle oil spills are primitive and involve innumerable conflicts of jurisdiction between port managements, coast guards and ONGC.