Wildlife hurdles to east coast oil exploration

Vol 14, PW 24 (02 Jun 11) People & Policy

Endangered Olive Ridley turtles will soon become the latest obstacle to exploration on India’s east coast.

PETROWATCH learns the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, attached to the union Ministry of Environment & Forests, is recommending a halt to all exploration on the Orissa coast between November and May, in a report completed last month. Olive Ridley turtles, says the as-yet-unpublished report, reach coastal waters off Orissa in November, spending six months breeding before migrating to southern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

“From November to May it is best to avoid seismic or drilling activity in these areas,” says a Wildlife Institute source. “Oil exploration is important but preserving nature is also important.

” Wildlife officials say noise from seismic surveys, toxic chemicals released by drilling, or intrusive vessels disrupt the turtles’ natural habitat. ONGC has already been forced to relinquish one exploration block (MN-OSN-97/3) because it falls within the Gahirmata Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, where Olive Ridley turtles lay eggs.

ONGC has two other blocks (MN-DWN-98/3 and MN-OSN-2002/2) that also fall in the migratory path of the Olive Ridley turtles. Reliance too has errant blocks: MN-DWN-98/2 and crucially, NEC-OSN-97/2, where it has made significant gas discoveries.

This month (June) scientists from the Wildlife Institute want Orissa state authorities to convene a meeting with the DGH, ONGC, Reliance and other ‘stakeholders’, to discuss the report’s findings. During the proposed meeting, satellite tracking imagery will for the first time reveal hard evidence of the exact migratory route taken by Olive Ridley turtles.

“This time we ‘tagged’ 68 turtles to make our study more authentic,” adds a source. An earlier study by the Wildlife Institute in 2001 ‘tagged’ four turtles only, considered insufficient by the oil ministry and the DGH, which commissioned the new Wildlife Institute study in November 2006.