In a response to recent controversies over its exploration projects in Tamil Nadu, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) on Thursday clarified that the PSU major was involved in neither the exploration of coal bed methane (CBM) nor shale gas in the state.
What has been going on in the districts of Thanajavur and Thiruvarur in the state was research and development (R&D) activity — termed as seismic survey — to collect data for future oil and gas exploration, it said. The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (MGT) had earlier granted an interim injunction restraining ONGC and GAIL from going ahead with a methane gas project in Thanjavur and Thiruvarur and later lifted the stay, following the company’s clarification before the bench.
A petition was earlier filed before the NGT by P R Pandian, general-secretary, Tamizhaga Cauvery Farmers Association, seeking the tribunal’s intervention on the alleged exploration activities of ONGC in the Cauvery Delta Basin in Thanjavur and Thiruvarur, which are the agricultural areas in the state.
Speaking to reporters in Chennai on Thursday at a press conference, to explain its stand in the whole episode, A K Dwivedi, director – exploration, ONGC, said the company’s seismic surveys are meant for acquiring data for oil and gas exploration. These are not related to any coal bed methane gas extraction, he said.
“I categorically reiterate that ONGC is not associated with any coal bed methane exploration in Tamil Nadu either directly or in partnership with any other agency. ONGC, a central PSU, undertakes all its activities only after necessary licences and statutory permissions from the state and central governments. It cannot and does not engage in any secret activities,” he said.
Reacting to some of the local farmers’ apprehensions and NGOs’ agitation, which claimed that ground water was being affected and structures were being damaged because of ONGC’s activities, Dwivedi said that these survey activities neither cause damage to any structures nor affect any ground water resources.
“The company, nowhere in the country, is exploring CBM since yields are less and the number of wells to be drilled are high. It does not have any ongoing shale gas project in Tamil Nadu or for that matter in the entire country, as there was no policy announced by the state and central governments on shale gas. Let alone ONGC, no company in the country could make shale gas exploration in the absence of a national policy,” he said.
The reported exploration activities in the region had created apprehension in the minds of farmers and local people that the company might engage in methane gas production and destroy the environment to a large extent, which would affect the ecosystem and livelihood of the farmers in the region, which is known for its fertility.
However, Dwivedi said the company has been undertaking only R&D efforts for future exploration while assessing the potential of the shale gas in the basin areas. According to him, in mature markets like the US, it took over three decades to start exploring shale gas, after hard R&D works. So, the company decided to start R&D since it takes a long time to make a find and by the time the country comes out with a policy, it would be in a position to get on the job.
At the Cauvery Basin, one location has been identified in the Kuthalam area for preliminary investigation and the company is yet to receive environment clearance from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change for drilling this location. “As and when it is received, the Tamil Nadu government will be approached for further clearances,” he said.
ONGC, British Gas for joint study
ONGC will be joining hands with British Gas to conduct a joint study to find out the potential of oil and gas resources and thereby re-establish exploration activities in the Cauvery Basin offshore. A K Dwivedi, director – exploration, ONGC, said both the companies will integrate their data and both the team will work together.
“This will be only an academic relation, there won’t be any business proportion in this tie-up,” he said. British Gas earlier had some interest in the Cauvery Basin offshore while ONGC had some blocks. “The team from both companies will jointly revisit the prospectivity aspects of the field in order to reestablish exploration there,” he said.