"Oil spill contaminated soil and water in Kathiramangalam", study nails ONGC's lies
Hydrocarbon operations by ONGC and CPCL are destroying the environment in Kathiramangalam, a study has found. This nails the ONGC's claims that the project will have no impact whatsoever on agriculture. The findings of the study are scary and a warning to the government on what lies ahead
The Coastal Resource Centre carried out scientific analysis of soil, groundwater and surface water samples from delta regions of Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam. The study has now revealed that the nightmares farmers had over Hydrocarbon operations are indeed becoming a reality. All seven samples, four soil samples, two surface water samples and one groundwater samples, were found to be contaminated by hydrocarbons linked to oil extraction or refining.
"ONGC or state government has not provided any scientific data to support their claims of Hydrocarbon activities not impacting agriculture or environment in the Cauvery delta. Based on people's complaints, we collected samples and these were analysed in government accredited laboratories and they were found to be contaminated. What this means is that the hydrocarbon operations that are already present in the delta districts are already causing harm and the most responsible thing to do about it is to identify the harm, not lie about it and clean it up and not expand the capacity to do harm," said Nityanand Jayaraman, an activist who was part of the study.
This should alarm the ONGC and the government
Surface water sample taken from the epicentre of the pollution contained 33.9 mg/L of TPH (Total petroleum hydrocarbon). The sample from 50 feet away was mixed with rainwater and contained 2.4 mg/L of TPH.
One sample of groundwater was taken from a handpump in Vellapakkam village, about 200 metres from CPCL's petroleum Narimanam refinery in Nagapattinam. The sample contained 0.2 mg/L of mineral oil, iron levels more than 37 times above permissible limits.
The soil taken 50 feet from the epicentre contained 438 mg/kg of TPH, while the soil in the epicentre contained 1118 mg/kg. The uncontaminated surface water of irrigation quality or uncontaminated farmland soil should not contain any TPH, the study said. Total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) is a term used to describe a large family of several hundred chemical compounds that originally come from crude oil.
Photographs filed by Kathiramangalam farmers reveal that contamination has been carried by rainwaters into the Velloor irrigation canal. Despite the magnanimity of the situation, the ONGC has ignored repeated requests by the landowner and farmers of surrounding lands to clean up the contamination.
Contamination exists even after a decade
Two soil samples were collected from a farm in Thirupunjai, Thiruvarur district, that was contaminated during an oil spill more than 10 years ago. The samples contained 1760 parts per million (or mg/kg) and 2983 mg/kg of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPH) respectively. The contaminated field had a perceptible odour of rancid petroleum. The soil was brittle, devoid of vegetation and had visible clumps of tar balls. Given that uncontaminated soils should have no trace of TPH, the levels found in the Thirupunjai field are exceedingly high and highlight the failure of ONGC to deploy remedial measures to restore the paddy lands.
"Hydrocarbon operations and agriculture do not go together and sacrificing agriculture is not a good idea," Jayaraman added. Those who conducted the study hope that the results have an impact. "It should put the government on the backfoot and force it to come up with better, comprehensive studies. The district administration should be more receptive to what people are saying instead of ONGC's arm-twisting.
ONGC failed on best international practices
When informed of an oil spill on June 30, the ONGC failed to observe international best practices in responding to it, the study has concluded. It further states that the ONGC's failure led to spread of contamination to public water courses and the Velloor irrigation canal.
"5 plants that ought to last 30 years are falling apart in 8 years and that means there is something wrong in the procurement process. If there are leakages and improper alignment of the pipeline there is bound to be a spill. When there is a spill, there are established protocols on how a company should react. They must contain it immediately and perform extensive environmental analysis and quickly remit the area so there is no remanence of the spill," Jayaraman added.