KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) – Cairns Oil & Gas, an arm of London-headquartered Vedanta, has been granted approval to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for oil and gas exploration in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, triggering a political storm in this election season.
The Indian government gave the nod to Cairns India to start an EIA across 116 onshore and offshore exploration sites this week, with several ruling and opposition political parties in the two states making it a political issue amidst ongoing national elections and vowing to stop Cairns from going ahead.
The exploration and production (E&P) major has submitted a proposal to the federal government that the EIA will entail appraisal drilling and seismic surveys of exploration blocks covering 1 794 km2 along the Bay of Bengal coastline of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry states.
The political opposition to Cairns comes close on the heels of national E&P major ONGC also facing agitation against its exploration of 1.1-million hectares of agricultural land in Tamil Nadu, which forced it to suspend activities in face of the agitation backed by various political parties.
“We will not allow any work by Vedanta which is bound to affect the people, agriculture and coastal fishing and environment,” Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy told media.
Opposition political parties in Tamil Nadu - DMK, PMK and AMMK - have condemned the granting of approval to Cairns and ONGC to start an EIA in the state claiming that the go-ahead violated the Code of Conduct applicable to all political parties during the national elections with one more phase of voting still to be held on May 19.
These parties have petitioned that the Election Commission of India intervene and revoke the approval granted till a new government takes charge in New Delhi.
The state government of Tamil Nadu, however, has not stated its official position to the granting of an EIA approval as it is perceived as close to the ruling party at the helm of the central government, opposition parties allege.
Opposition to these exploratory projects have also pointed out that in the course of granting approvals for an EIA, the central government makes no specific mention of holding mandatory public hearings, as per notifications issued in 2006, to enable local project-affected people a chance to air their view before the companies implement the drilling projects.
As per plans drawn up, Cairns will conduct exploratory drilling over the next 10 to 12 years and in the case of establishing commercially viable hydrocarbon reserves will undertake development projects entailing capital investments of up to $2-billion.