CHENNAI: If anyone has even an iota of doubt about the kind of environmental damage a hydrocarbon project will cause, read Yojana (a Central Government publication) in which two senior IAS officials from NITI Aayog penned a research article calling spade a spade nearly six months before the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) gave its nod for the controversial project in Neduvasal village, which is fast becoming a hotbed for protests.
However, officials said the project can be taken up, provided certain capacity measures were taken up to ensure health and well-being of local communities.
Anil Kumar Jain, Adviser (Energy, Climate Change and Overseas Engagements), NITI Aayog who is now heading a team to frame the new National Energy Policy and earlier prepared long-term energy demand and supply projection tool, IESS, 2047 and is an expert on upstream and downstream development of the gas sector in India, has highlighted serious environmental impact of hydrocarbon projects and necessary preventive measures to be taken.
Rajnath Ram, who is the Joint Adviser (Petroleum), Energy and International Cooperation Vertical at NITI Aayog and involved in policy framing on oil and natural gas and renewable energy (excluding large hydro projects), is the co-author.
In the article, the two say that the hydraulic fracturing (the procedure to be used in Neduvasal) contaminates water and poses serious threats to the environment. This stand contradicts the Union Petroleum Ministry’s claim that the fracturing was clean and safe.
Sand, ceramic and other chemicals are generally used with high pressure water to fracture shales and keep pores open for gas to leak into wells.
The authors fear that the resultant chemicals may mix with groundwater if these fractures are to take place at a shallow depth along a fault (a crack in the earth’s crust that moves from time to time) and there are also chances of gas escaping through these fractures, contaminating the aquifer further.
The study based on global experiences in fracturing points out that in advanced procedures involving large quantities of proppants (sand-ceramic mix to keep the fractures open and ensure continuous flow of the target resource) during the later stages may even result in an earthquake as gas flow rate of gas wells tapers after first two years.
These processes require more water compared to conventional oil and gas. According to estimates, around 20,000 cubic metres of water is required for each well. It is believed that they (national oil companies) follow this procedure, particularly in Cambay and Cauvery basins, says the study.
The same applies to land availability. Contrary to conventional gas sources, shale gas exploration is completely onland and horizontal fracturing becomes inevitable to cover a large part of the identified reservoir.