Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grey Areas and Hazards of Oil Exploration in Manipur

NELP & Oil Exploration and Drilling in Manipur
In April, 2009, the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (P&NG), Government of India emphasized that New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) has provided a major impetus to exploration efforts in the country. NELP was conceptualised by the Government during 1997–98 to provide an equal platform to both Public and Private sector companies in exploration and production of hydrocarbons with the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons as a nodal agency for its implementation. It was introduced to boost production of oil and natural gas and providing level playing field for both public and private players. After seven rounds, the area under exploration has increased more than four times to 48 percent of Indian Sedimentary Basin area from 11 percent before implementation of NELP. Under NELP-VII, 68 oil and gas discoveries were made in 19 exploration blocks. The deep water offshore area in India has been opened up through NELP and its success is attributed mainly to the investor-friendly NELP and concerted efforts made by private companies, i.e., Reliance Industries limited and Niko Resources Limited, a Canadian company; and State Public Sector Undertaking viz., Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation Limited.
In year 2010, NELP-VIII round offered 70 exploration blocks comprising of 24 deep water blocks, 28 shallow water blocks, 18 onland blocks (including 10 onland small sized (Type-S) blocks ). The 70 blocks cover a sedimentary area of about 1.64 lakh sq. km., which is 5.2 percent of the Indian sedimentary basin area. 18 onland blocks fall in the States of Assam (2), Gujarat (8), Haryana (1), Madhya Pradesh (3), Manipur (2) and West Bengal (2). As regards offshore blocks, 28 shallow water and 24 deep water blocks fall in Western, Eastern and Andaman offshore.
In order to address concerns expressed by Exploration & Production (E & P) companies in NELP-VIII, the Government undertook extensive consultations with various stakeholders including E&P companies and industry bodies. Bidders were evaluated on a score of 100 points based on three criteria such as technical capability, work programme and fiscal package. Exploration period is of seven years uniformly for all the blocks. However, minimum committed work programme would require to be completed in four years only. Further, extension of exploration period beyond four years is linked to commitment to drill wells by the bidder.
Under NELP-VIII, two oil blocks are identified in Manipur located in the districts of Imphal East (Jiribam), Tamenglong and Churachandpur. The blocks fall under shallow water blocks under the Assam-Arakan Basin. Block I (AA-ONN-2009/1) covers around 2,217 sq. km and Block II (AA-ONN-2009/2) covers 1,740 sq. km., together a total area of approximately 3,957 sq. km., which is around one-sixth of the total area of Manipur. Oil exploration and drilling works in the two oil blocks was granted license to Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Limited (JOGPL), based in the Netherlands by the Government of India through its Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The Production Sharing Contract for Manipur Oil Block I was signed on June 30, 2010 and the Petroleum Exploration License was granted by the Manipur Government on September 23, 2010. The Contract for Manipur Block II was signed on July 19, 2010 and the license was granted by the Manipur Government on September 20, 2010. The deeds for the exploration licenses were signed on November 15, 2010. Oil and Natural Gas Commission of India estimates that Manipur has nearly 5000 billion cubic feet of oil. The Jubilant Energy is envisaged to drill oil from 30 oil wells, identified by the Alpha Geo Company based in Hyderabad, which has been conducting seismic studies for the Jubilant Energy.
Protest & Resistance
The exploration and drilling of oil by Jubilant Energy in Manipur is marked by protest and resistance from the local population and civil society bodies. First of all, as envisaged and endorsed in the International Labour Organization Convention, the United Nations Declaration on Rights of the Indigenous People and others, free, fair and prior informed consent of the people in the region, before taking up any trade agreement related to land, mountain, forest, water, minerals, hydrocarbons, etc., which are traditionally owned by the indigenous people was not taken into account before signing of the contract. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, sates that the impact of extractive industries on indigenous peoples is a subject of special concern to the Special Rapporteur as it affects the lives of indigenous peoples. However, the exploration and drilling activities were initiated without the consent of the people of Manipur or without making the venture public.
The secretive nature of the process itself explains that the initiatives may not be people friendly at all. No one knows the amount of money invested, the period of exploration and drilling and further plans of refinery and so on. So far, important documents such as Detail Project Report, environmental clearance, the terms and conditions of all contracts and MoUs signed between the Government of India, Government of Manipur and Jubilant Oil and Gas are not made public. They are like well-guarded classified documents. Other than rumours of Jubilant oiling the palms of major hill-based insurgent outfits and village chiefs, the Company has not come out with any public clarifications.
The silence on the part of the Government and the company compels the people to think beyond the issue of oil exploration, but see the project as an attempt to create conflict which can be manifested in terms of human or environmental sphere. This is more akin to taking advantage of the prevailing armed-conflict situation in the State, similar to the United States’ interferences in the conflict ridden African countries, to extract resources. Further, the oil venture carries the potential of militarization to the already militarised state in the name of protecting the national interest which will result in human rights violations. This has been the experiences of militarization for the last many decades.
The protest should not be read simply as the people of Manipur being anti-development or against any development initiatives as propagated by the Government. Rather it is to be understood as the fear arising out of exploitation of land, resources and people themselves as evidenced by numerous happenings in many parts of India and the world. For example, oil extraction in Assam accounts for 30 percent of the total oil production in India. After more than 100 years of its contribution, no visible development is witnessed in the rural areas of the state, especially where extraction takes place. However, the negative effects, such as environmental and others are borne by the common people. As per reports of the Digboi oilfield R&D, Geology Wing, “Crude oil comes out with gas+mineral+water. We must extract water from the crude oil. Water content is highly saline which is not safe for human consumption”. Any oil drill will produce such saline water that is bound to spoil and contaminate the surface water, forest and agricultural lands, aquatic animals and underground water. The ongoing drilling in Tamenglong is sure to contaminate the Barak River and its tributaries.
In additional to the harmful environmental consequences, the other key area of concern is the possibility of illegal exploration. By illegal exploration we refer to the process of exploration which is beyond the scope defined in the terms of agreement in term of resources. In short, it refers to cases where operators harvest resources, which they do not have the legal rights to exploit. The quantity of oil projected by the government is always under estimated which give rise to possibility of illegal exploration. Human Rights Watch reported that there were more than 82,000 instances of illegal mining in 2010 in India. The situation also reflects the same in Manipur. For instance, chromite mining was undertaken in the Ukhrul District of Manipur. But how and who permitted the venture, when was it started and how much has already been exploited, etc are not clear to the common people.
Governmental Technology
Of late, public hearing has become an effective tool of pushing ahead the Government agenda in Manipur. When faced with opposition, the Government through the politics of public hearing, in which a select hand-picked personnel are present, attempts to achieve its goal. When people protests and disrupts such stage-managed public hearings, the Government resorts to filing cases against the agitators instead of addressing their grievances. The proposed Tipaimukh Dam, State Action Plan on Climate Change, eviction of the Phumdi dwellers at Loktak Lake and other matters concerning the Lake, etc. are indications of the case. In the case of the oil drilling, when people demanded effective regulatory mechanisms to ensure social and environmental standard and as such systematic Environmental Impact Assessment, relocation of the indigenous people who are going to be displaced from their traditional land, and others in various conventions held at Noney, Imphal and others, the Government side-lined their concerns. The Government has failed to understand that for the first time in Manipur, communities irrespective of their ethnic affiliations have gathered together, not swayed by threats and influences from underground outfits, to fight for a common cause. It remains blind and it is attempting to push forward the agenda through public hearings, through filing of FIRs against the agitators and through the use of State forces. We would only ask, “Make the whole process transparent and remove the grey areas”.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, August 26, 2012

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