Examination of soil, groundwater and surface water samples from Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam have revealed that hydrocarbon operations by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited are harming the environment, The Coastal Resource Centre said on Wednesday. It added that its studies had confirmed that the ONGC had not employed the best international practices while responding to the oil spill in Kathiramangalam on June 30.

The CRC said that all seven samples collected for the study were found to have been contaminated by hydrocarbons released during oil extraction or refining. The report also debunked the ONGC’s claim that it promptly attends to oil spills and leaks, and that villagers had prevented their team from tending to the spill in June.

“Two sets of water and soil samples were taken from Sriram Ramamoorthy’s certified organic farm, which bore the brunt of the June 30 oil leak from ONGC’s crude oil pipeline,” the report said, adding details of the amount of contaminants found in each sample. It also explained that uncontaminated surface water meant for irrigation or uncontaminated soil in farms should not contain any Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon.

The CRC also said that the ONGC had ignored repeated requests by farmers in Kathiramangalam to clean up the contaminated area.

The June 30 oil spill

The leak in Kathiramangalam was discovered on July 1 morning. Residents noticed a brown substance bubbling out of the ground in one of the fields surrounding the village. ONGC – India’s largest oil explorer and producer – has 29 oil wells in and around Kathiramangalam.

When ONGC officials arrived at the spot to fix the leak, the villagers allegedly did not allow them near the area. Soon after, the police, sub-collector and district revenue officer arrived and asked the villagers to let the officials do their work. But they would not budge. As the stand-off continued, a fire broke out in the field in the evening.

Accusing the villagers of setting the fire, the police are believed to have charged at them with batons. ONGC officials claimed that the protestors had manhandled their staff and the policemen.

“We had gone to repair one of the wells that had ceased to produce efficiently,” said ONGC Asset Manager Kulbir Singh. “But a lot of people gathered there. Finally, after five days, with police protection, we carried out the job. After that, there were a lot of protests. People were asking why ONGC was coming here.”