Fracking threat to Krishna Delta

PHOTO by Sagar Dhara, — Fertile lands in the area of the project which will become barren after fracking.

Amaravati, April 7

Vedanta Ltd, a division of Cain Oil and Gas, proposes to establish 35 shale oil and gas production wells in 35 villages spread over four blocks—Gudur, Movva, Machillipatnam and Kalidindi, of Krishna District, covering an area of 115 km2. Vedanta proposes to produce per day 30,000 barrels of oil and 30 million cubic feet of gas by fracking shale formations in the Krishna delta. This is the first major project of this sort in India. A public hearing, per the EIA Notification 2006, is to be held in Kaza village on 12 April 2021.

Kalapala Babu Rao, retired scientist, IICT, Hyderabad and Sagar Dhara, former environmental engineering consultant to UNEP, said fracking was a technology that is new to India. It involved injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals at high pressure into horizontal bore holes drilled at depths of over 2 km below the ground.

Project area:

The project area is flat land with no undulations. The land is very fertile except for a few areas that have sandy soil. The cropped area as a percent of total area is very high. The water table is high and provides plentiful water for non-monsoon crops. A minimum of two crops is sown on much of the arable land. The project area is rich agricultural land with no large industry. Human habitats are mostly villages of an average size ranging from 1,000-5,000. There are a few small towns. Population density of the area is high and the predominant livelihood is agriculture.

Environmental impact of fracking

Fracking as a process was fraught with many environmental impacts. Very large quantities of water was used for fracking and this would lead to a depletion of ground water in a region that is very fertile and does a minimum of two crops/year. About 20-40% of the water used for fracking shale formations returns back to the surface along with the dissolved chemical that are toxic. The EIA for the project does not identify the chemicals nor state their toxicity values measured as LD50, etc. There is a risk of the backflow water contaminating the aquifers of the region with fracking chemicals and radioactive substances found naturally in underground geological formations that may make the region’s wells un-potable and unusable for irrigation. Use of contaminated water after fracking operations commence poses several health risks to the local population. Minor tremor have also been reported in areas where fracking has been done in other countries. Oil and gas production platforms also will produce noise that will exceed sound level standards and will pose high sound level related health effects for the local population. There will also be some ground vibration close to the drilling platforms. Fracking has also led to land subsidence in other countries, where such operations have been conducted. Ground vibrations and subsidence may cause structural damage to housing in the project area. The availability of oil and gas in this area may attract downstream industry, which over a period of 2-3 decades will transform the area from a rich agricultural area into a polluted industrial area with a much degraded environment, they said.

The EIA report for this project does not discuss these environmental impacts in a scientific manner, nor propose remedial measures for them.

Fact finding team

K Babu Rao, retired scientist, IICT, Hyderabad and Sagar Dhara, former environmental engineering consultant to UNEP, toured the project area between 4-6 April, along with activists—C Ramakrishna, P AmershamRae, T V Rameau, Machillipatnam advocates, D Pal, DTFWF Fisherman’s Union, Kakinada, C Venugopal, farmer’s union, Guntupalli.

They made the following observations:

• The EIA for the project is of poor quality and does not qualify to be called a scientific report.

• The local people were largely unaware that such a project has been proposed in their region.

• The few people who were aware of the project were unaware of the details of the project or its possible impacts. A few knowledgeable persons expressed the opinion that if this project was allowed to be grounded, many more wells would come up in Krishna, West and East Godavari Districts, which had shale formations, leading to drastic environmental destruction of these districts.

• There is a huge lacuna in risk communication of the part of the project proponent, his environmental consultant and AP Pollution Control Board. Therefore, the local people are not in a position to make an informed decision about the project.

• The AP Pollution Control Board is unable to follow the Supreme Court’s Writ of Mandamus passed in 2011 in Lafarge case to establish an independent environmental regulator as the Union Government has not followed the Supreme Court’s order. Without an independent environmental regulator, we fear that the people in the Vedanta project area will not get a proper public hearing.

• There has been no attempt so far to obtain the consent of the gram panchayats or gram sabhas for this project. This is against the spirit of the 73rd/74th amendments to the Indian Constitution.

• The resurgence of COVID19 has not been considered while fixing the public hearing on 12 April 2021.

Recommendations:

The proposed hearing on 12 April 2012 bedeferred for the reasons stated above and be held only after the issues stated above are resolved to the satisfaction of the gram sabha general bodies of all the villages and towns in the proposed project area.

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