A public interest litigation has been registered at the Gauhati High Court against the Centre's nod to Oil India for drilling seven wells inside Dibru- Saikhowa National Park, which is adjacent to Baghjan well tragedy site.
The PIL no. 35/2020 was filed jointly by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka on Monday and it was registered on Tuesday, the E-Courts services of the Gauhati High Court mentioned. The petitioners have made 14 respondents in the case - Government of India (GoI), Secretary to GoI, Assam government, Principal Secretary, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of Forest Force and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife).
The National Board of Wildlife, State Board of Wildlife, Oil India Ltd (OIL), General Manager, The Deputy Commissioner, Commissioner and Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Board have also been made parties in the case.
The PIL has been filed against the Central government's approval to OIL for drilling seven wells inside the Dibru- Saikhowa National Park, which is very rich in biodiversity. It also pointed out that if the company is allowed to go ahead with the drilling, then situations like Baghjan's gas well tragedy can take place there also, thereby threatening the entire Park.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had accorded environmental clearance for extension drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, north west of Baghjan in Tinsukia district. An OIL gas well at Baghjan, which is abutting the Dibru- Saikhowa National Park, in Tinsukia district of Assam has been spewing gas uncontrollably for the last 22 days and it caught fire on June 9, killing two of OIL's firefighters at the site.
The blaze at the well is so massive that it can be seen from a distance of more than 30 kms with thick black smoke going up several metres high, endangering the local biodiversity in the National Park following the blowout on May 27.
On May 19, the PSU major OIL had published an advertisement in a leading English newspaper about the company receiving permission to drill inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, evoking sharp reactions on social media regarding protection of the forest. The next day, the company had informed through an official statement that in order to tap the hydrocarbon resources underneath the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, it had approached statutory bodies for obtaining necessary permissions in 2016. The company had claimed it would drill the seven wells inside the National Park from about 1.5 km distance outside the boundary of the forest with the help of advanced technology.
"This is a state of the art technology, where drilling will take place around at an average more than 1.5 kilometres outside the demarcated area of the national park where OIL already is carrying out hydrocarbon exploration since last 15 years (Baghjan area)," OIL had said.
The company would be able to accomplish this task of exploring hydrocarbon reserves under the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park by use of the Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) technology, it had added.
"ERD techniques are extensively used to intersect hydrocarbon targets far from the surface or areas of the reservoir which otherwise are difficult to access. By using this technology, wells can be drilled up to a depth of approximately four km from the existing well plinth without entering the protected area. "Through ERD technology, OIL will reach the target depth of around 3.5 km beneath the surface of the National Park without carrying out any drilling activity inside the National Park," the statement had said.
OIL had asserted that no disturbance to the environment and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is envisaged due to use of ERD technology.