Pollution control authorities in Assam on Tuesday threatened to shut down several key installations of premier oil exploration firm Oil India Limited (OIL), charging it with causing serious environmental degradation and posing health risks.
"OIL is blatantly violating pollution control norms with crude oil seeping to human settlement areas. Besides, hazardous wastes are posing serious health risks and threatening the groundwater and soil," Assam Pollution Control Board chairman Jawaharlal Dutta said.
The board had given an ultimatum to the state-owned OIL to take remedial measures to check crude seepage and steps for time-bound disposal of oily sludge found around several pits, some of them close to human habitations and croplands and near tea plantations.
"Non-compliance of our directive could lead to arrest of officials or even shutdown of the installations against which we have found specific pollution violation evidences," Dutta said.
"I visited at least six installations recently and found specified pollution control norms had not been adhered to in all the sites. Some of the oily sludge has been lying there probably for decades."
OIL officials declined to comment on the charges of environmental pollution. The pollution control board chairman said OIL authorities could face contempt of court charges for trying to suppress facts as cases of environmental pollution fall under the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee.
"About a year back we had asked OIL under the direction of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee to quantify the number of pits and the volume of oily sludge," Dutta said.
"But OIL suppressed facts and did not provide us all details. There are a number of unidentified pits which were not mentioned in the list given to us by OIL."
The board had asked OIL to submit a report by the month end, besides suggesting remedial measures to deal with oil seepage and disposing the hazardous wastes. "Bioremediation of oily sludge should be undertaken, besides monitoring groundwater around all pits and cleaning all other installations immediately," Dutta said.
He said the board would be forced to do satellite imaging to pinpoint the total number of pits if OIL fails to provide details as sought. "Most of the pits were unscientifically managed and do not conform to prescribed specifications," Dutta said.
People living around oil installations near the OIL headquarters of Duliajan in eastern Assam had complained of various physical ailments and the adverse impact on agriculture allegedly due to pollution caused by drilling activities.
"It is true that croplands near installations get affected and there could be accumulated effect on human health as well due to pollution," he said.
India produces about 30 million tonnes of crude annually, with Assam accounting for about five million tonnes.
OIL produces about 3.5 million tonnes of crude in Assam annually.
Environment protection groups in the area have also charged OIL with not taking enough precautionary steps to check pollution, especially measures at eco-conservation.
"OIL has not done enough for the environment considering the irrevocable damage done to the eco-system due to various drilling works carried out by the company," Soumyadeep Datta, director of Nature's Beckon, an environmental rights group, said.