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Oil exploration in Nagaland; ONGC needs to appreciate ground realities

Oil pipes at Chanpang. (NP)
Spl Report Dimapur, Jan16(NPN):
Published on 17 Jan. 2011 12:15 AM IST
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When the Cabinet Sub-Committee team headed by minister of planning T.R.Zeliang visited Changpang on January 8, the objective was to take stock of the situation arising out of oil spills from some of the wells abandoned by the ONGC in 1994 and on assessing the ground reality with regard to formulation of modalities in consultation with the public of Changpang before finalizing any future agreement based on Memorandum of Understanding for resumption of oil operations.
The environmental damage caused by oil spillage and the looming threat posed by the oil spill in causing potentially catastrophic oil blow are major concerns that need immediate action.
According to one NGO, the Green Foundation, based at Wokha, in its write up : “The danger is that, pressures that builds up from the gases in the earth and shifting earthquakes could cause oil and gas to resurface, even on an oil well that had been capped. This causes spills and emissions that could harm air, land and water body”.
It was learnt that the ONGC has been requesting the state government for permission and security to repair or cap the oil spill and clean up the areas affected by the oil spill. So far there has been no word about the state government’s response to the ONGC offer.
According to some sources, the entire capping of leaked valves or replacements of those damaged or stolen will cost the ONGC anywhere around `100 crore.
This includes repair of roads and some bridges for transportation of equipments to check the oil wells and repair and recap the valves.
The ONGC with head office in Jorhat, is responsible for the Changpang and Tssori oil wells which were abandoned in 1994.
In case, the ONGC is to resume oil operations in Nagaland, it cannot act through remote control from Jorhat. Therefore, setting up of the ONGC in Nagaland for the Nagaland operations is essential .
Though the ONGC appears to be the front runner for resumption of oil activities in Nagaland, its past has not been without controversies.
• ONGC was given exploration permit in the 70s to explore and extract 18 kilotons on trial and experimental basis. However, ONGC from 1981 began extracting over more than 1 million tons( 7 million tons according to other estimates)
• The ONGC paid `33.83 crore as royalty for the crude oil extracted from Chanpang and Tssori oil fields to the government of Nagaland before it was ordered to halt oil activities in May 1994. The amount, by admittance is far above the rate for 18 kilotons.
• The ONGC set up its offices in Dimapur during 1990s during which many local youth were given contract employment. However, it closed its Dimapur office after a miscreant allegedly threatened its official.
• Compare this to attacks on ONGC oil installations by Assam’s militants where ONGC oil installations were bombed and eight employees including a scientists were killed.
One of the demands of the Changpang public was that ONGC set up an oil refinery in the area so as to treat the crude before transportation for producing fuel products
To set up a mini-refinery, there has to be at least one million metric tons of crude and which Changpang and Tssori oil basin has nearly an estimated 30 to 40 million metric tons.
The other refineries in Assam include the following with refining capacities:
Refinery 1 million metric tons per annum
Digboi 0.650 ”
Bongaigaon 2.350 ”
Numaligarh 3 million metric tons per annum

What can be seen is that the ONGC has set up the refineries with the objective of transporting crude from other states to be refined in these refineries.
Obviously, employment of local people and other benefits are innumerable.
Besides Changpang and Tssori, Nagaland also has vast estimated crude reserves in Tzurangkong under Tuli bordering Wamaken and Amguri along the Geleki reserved forest. The crude reserve is estimated to be higher than that of Chanpang and Tssori, between 60 to 70 million metric tons.
ONGC is currently extracting oil from one well located at the disputed area of the Geleki forest after the Assam government had deserved it through a notification in 2009. This is in violation of the 1972 agreement between the governments of Assam-Nagaland in maintaining status quo along the disputed borders.

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