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Centre considers delinking oil, gas extraction from mining tag

The MoPNG is seeking a separate category of clearance for oil and gas because if it is considered a mining activity, the environmental norms may prove to be more stringent, an official in the ministry said.
If the proposal is approved, oil and gas extraction will not be considered a mining activity anymore. (Bloomberg)
Published on Apr 16, 2022 12:02 AM IST
ByJayashree Nandi

The Union environment ministry is considering a proposal to delink oil and gas extraction from mining projects, as far as environmental appraisal is concerned, people familiar with the matter said.

If approved, oil and gas extraction will not be considered a mining activity anymore.

According to the people cited above, the ministry of petroleum and natural gas (MoPNG) has requested the environment ministry to create a separate category for appraisal of oil and gas projects on their Parivesh portal, where various environmental clearances are processed.

The minutes of a Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting on March 31 said while the panel has deferred its decision on the matter, it maintained that extraction of natural gas and petroleum is not mining as per interpretation of a 2006 Supreme Court order.

HT has seen a copy of the minutes of the FAC meeting.

In a request to the environment ministry on January 31, the MoPNG director general had asked the Union government to create a separate category for hydrocarbon projects which are currently applied under the mining category.

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The MoPNG is seeking a separate category of clearance for oil and gas because if it is considered a mining activity, the environmental norms may prove to be more stringent, an official in the ministry said.

“They will need permission from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) if the extraction needs to take place in forest areas or in an eco-sensitive zone of a wildlife reserve. Mining activities will need a forest clearance also, besides an environmental clearance,” the official said, seeking anonymity.

The FAC has sought comments from the wildlife, and forest conservation division of the environment ministry to understand the implications of delinking the oil and gas extraction sector from mining. The forest conservation division has also been asked to prepare a comparative statement on likely impacts associated with conventional mining and petroleum mining proposals.

The issue of delinking hydrocarbons from mining projects was first considered by a standing committee of NBWL in 2018 while dealing with a proposal related to Tripura, where it was decided that the Tripura government should obtain the opinion of its advocate general (A-G) in the matter.

The Tripura A-G had said that the extraction of natural gas and oil cannot be considered as mining in terms of the Supreme Court order dated August 4, 2006 in TN Godavarman vs Union of India case.

“The two activities are different when it comes to the area involved. Oil and gas extraction is not the same as open cast mining but the impact of the extraction can be several times higher. Look at what happened in Assam’s Baghjan in 2020 in the oil and gas leak and fire. So they may be treated differently only as long as the level of scrutiny is not reduced,” environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta said.

Subsequently on June 6, 2019, MoPNG secretary sent a request to the environment ministry to delink oil and gas exploration from mining activities. The FAC considered the matter in their meetings held on April 23, 2019 and July 31, 2019 and recommended that MoPNG may seek legal advice from the ministry of law and justice (MoLJ) on whether survey, exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas should be treated as a mining activity.

MoPNG conveyed that MoLJ had observed: “the specific requirement for certain specific activities, framing of separate guidelines is purely an administrative policy matter/decision and not a legal issue. Hence it is for the administrative Ministry to take up the matter with MoEFCC. However, if in the course of framing guidelines any legal issue arises the same may be formulated and referred to MoLJ for advice.”

According to the US Energy Information Administration, exploring and drilling for oil is likely to disturb land and marine ecosystems. Seismic techniques used to explore for oil under the ocean floor may harm fish and marine mammals. Drilling an oil well on land often requires clearing an area of vegetation.

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