The Gauhati High Court on Monday stayed the environmental clearance given by the Centre to Oil India Limited for the drilling of seven hydrocarbon projects in Dibru Saikhowa National Park, PTI reported. The park is one of the two ecologically fragile areas flanking the Baghjan oil field, where a massive blowout took place in May.
The court passed the order during its hearing of a public interest litigation filed by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka.
The petitioners argued that the Centre had allowed drilling inside the ecologically-sensitive area by amending rules like public hearing under the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020.
They added that the Centre categorised all onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration as “B2 Project” from “A Project”, thereby exempting public hearing and consultation.
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The petitioners’ advocate said that Oil India was required to conduct a biodiversity impact assessment study as per the Supreme Court’s orders. “The division bench of the Gauhati High Court was prima facie satisfied that OIL had failed to carry out the assessment study,” Rakhee Sirauthia Chowdhury told PTI. “So, it stayed the exploration and drilling of seven hydrocarbon projects in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.”
The petitioners also stated that the allowing Oil India to undertake drilling in the area could trigger blowouts like Baghjan and destroy its rich plant and animal life, according to The Assam Tribune.
Oil India had managed to completely kill the blowout at the Baghjan Oil Field in November. A fire had broken out at well number five of the plant on June 9, days after the blowout on May 27.
In June, the National Green Tribunal had directed Oil India Limited to pay an interim fine of Rs 25 crore for the damage caused to public health and wildlife due to the fire. At least two firefighters had died in the blaze.
On May 11, Oil India received environmental clearance for hydrocarbon exploration in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park using a new technology called extended reach drilling. The technique would allow Oil India to drill horizontally from outside the park to tap the hydrocarbon reserves within. OIL had asserted that no disturbance would be caused to the environment because of the use of extended-reach drilling.