KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) – In a controversial move triggering ire among environmentalists, the Indian government has loosened key regulations for offshore and onshore hydrocarbon exploration.
In a notification issued by the Forest, Environment and Climate Change Ministry, hydrocarbon exploration projects neither require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, nor the holding of consultations with locals through public hearings.
The new notification effectively amends the EIA Notification 2006, which mandated that any project for hydrocarbon exploration for reserves falling in Category A would have to mandatorily prepare EIA reports and public hearings and thereafter seek clearance from the Ministry.
The rules have been tweaked such that oil and gas exploration has been categorised as a ‘B2” activity, which encompasses activity where "the spatial extent of potential impacts and potential impacts on human health and natural and man-made resources are low".
Henceforth, environmental clearances for hydrocarbon projects would have to be sought from respective state governments and not from federal agencies.
Environmentalists have flayed the move on the grounds that, though the move apparently decentralises procedures, the reality is that state governments do not have agencies equipped with the necessary technical manpower to make the necessary assessments and grant environmental approvals.
It might be noted that last year, exploration and production (E&P) majors, including State-run ONGC and Vedanta, were granted exemptions from preparing EIA reports and holding public hearings into the conduct of exploratory surveys in blocks in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, triggering widespread opposition from locals and all the major political parties.
The opposition in Tamil Nadu claimed that exemptions were granted to Vedanta for drilling 274 exploratory wells and to ONGC for 40 wells despite the latter adopting established hazardous techniques like seismic testing and fracking.
Leading environmental activists have also flayed the move to exempt offshore exploration projects on the grounds that most of the blocks allocated were ‘near shore’ or within territorial waters, potentially impacting local fishermen, and scrapping public hearings would jeopardise the local economy.