NGT orders CPCL to pay Rs five crore to TNPCB for Nagapattinam oil leak

The penalty amount has to be utilised for improving the environment and health of the people of the district, the NGT said.
A view of the oil spread in the sea off the Pattinacherry coast in Nagapattinam district on Friday.
A view of the oil spread in the sea off the Pattinacherry coast in Nagapattinam district on Friday. | Express

CHENNAI: Invoking the ‘Superfund’ law of the US statutes, the National Green Tribunal’s southern bench in Chennai on Wednesday ruled that Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd (CPCL) should pay a fine of Rs 5 crore to the TN Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) within two months for the oil leak from its pipeline in coastal Nagapattinam in March 2023.

The bench said that though official reports by multiple agencies showed swift containment of the leak with minimal damage, state-owned CPCL had to be held accountable for “breaching” its duty of care as potential consequences for the marine ecosystem and local fishing communities could not be disregarded. The penalty amount has to be utilised for improving the environment and health of the people of the district, the NGT said.

The bench applied the concept of ‘no-fault’ liability, taking a cue from the American Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 1980, commonly known as ‘Superfund’, which addresses cleanup of hazardous waste sites and responses to environmental emergencies involving pollutants and contaminants.

The case pertains to an oil spill from CPCL’s nine-km long, 20-inch diameter pipeline that carried crude oil from the company’s Cauvery Basin Refinery (CBR)’s storage tanks at Nagapattinam to Karaikal port on March 2, 2023. The leaked oil had covered an area of 2km seen from Nagapattinam beach and Keechankuppam and further south.

The leak was arrested after nearly 36 hours and remediation efforts were carried out. The pipeline was removed within a month, with villagers thanking officials for the speedy response, a report by National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) noted.

However, TNPCB submitted before the bench that as per the spill pattern, 10,000 litres of oil had leaked of which 9,000 had been recovered or removed. CPCL had not accounted for 1,200 litres which had either mixed with seawater or sand, the bench said.

“These kinds of incidents/accidents are prone to occur in the future too. Merely because the reports of the various institutions have given a no-impact report, the CPCL cannot be absolved of its liability. Even though the leakage in the pipeline happened not because of the negligence or mistake of the CPCL, but only due to an external force, the CPCL is liable,” the bench said.

Justifying the no-fault liability, the bench said it was necessary irrespective of the damage being man-made or natural and that hazards in crude oil transportation were well-known. The no-fault liability would serve the dual purpose of upholding the duty of care for entities controlling such materials, even in absence of proven negligence, and ensure payment of commensurate compensation.

Don’t give NOC, ennore residents tell TNPCB

Chennai: Villagers in Ennore on Wednesday submitted a petition to TNPCB urging it not to allow Coromandel International Ltd (CIL) to restart operations. The NGT judgement in the Ennore gas leak case had stated that CIL can restart activities after obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH) and subject to approvals from the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board (TNMB) and Indian Register of Shipping.

It also asked the TNPCB to monitor the CIL’s activities. “We have now given a petition to the TNPCB. We will also urge the other agencies to not allow the operations as well. Members from 33 villages will also soon meet and decide on the next course of action. We will also decide on continuing the protest after the announcement of election results during the meeting as well,” said a representative of Ennore Makkal Paathukappu Kuzhu.

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