CHENNAI: After giving nod to the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, the Union Environment Ministry has accorded preliminary clearance to Vedanta Limited to drill 274 hydrocarbon exploratory wells, both offshore and onshore, in Tamil Nadu.
Cairn Oil & Gas, a Vedanta vertical, had submitted two separate applications seeking Terms of Reference (ToR) for conducting Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies. Approval for drilling 158 wells in the Cauvery block — covering an area of 2,574 sq km consisting of 142 sq km of Nagapattinam, 39 sq km of Karaikal and 2,393 sq km of sea portion of the Bay of Bengal — was given on Sunday.
Permission to drill 116 wells in a block covering an area of 1,794 sq.km (139 sq km of Viluppuram, 2sq km of Puducherry and 1,654 sq km of sea portion of Bay of Bengal) was given on May 10.
In the official communication to Vedanta, the ministry issued Standard ToR under EIA Notification 2006, but there were no specific conditions mentioned. Also, there is no word on Vedanta’s request for exemption from holding public hearing, a statutory requirement under EIA Notification, 2006.
A whopping Rs13,538 crore is likely to be invested by Vedanta, which was allotted two hydrocarbon blocks in TN as part of Open Acreage Licensing Policy last year. Total command area to carry out necessary studies would be 4.37 lakh hectares.
Besides, environmental concerns emanating out of drilling operation, the ecologically sensitive Pichavaram mangrove forest is just 0.49 km from the Vedanta block boundary. Four important rivers, including Cauvery and several other canals, flow within the block and the Bay of Bengal, where the blocks are located, is prone to cyclones.
As per the provisions of the Revenue Sharing Contract, Vedanta proposes to carry out oil and gas exploration (including seismic surveys, exploratory and appraisal drilling) in the next 10-12 years. In case commercial quantity of hydrocarbon reserves is established, then development and production of oil and gas will take place in Phase-II.
Earlier, a Vedanta Cairn spokesperson told Express, “All environmental safeguards will be taken in line with applicable environmental statutory requirements. We are currently in planning phase-1 for carrying out exploration activities, and the drilling of Exploratory and Appraisal wells in the OALP blocks in the Cauvery basin. The well-drilling execution is dependent on the assessment of subsurface data. The roll-out of exploration activities of these wells will only be confirmed after all evaluations of data received via data analytics.”