Govt grants exemption to extended reach drilling from forest clearance

The Centre has granted exemption to companies undertaking Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) in forest areas from seeking forest clearance
Govt grants exemption to extended reach drilling from forest clearance
Govt grants exemption to extended reach drilling from forest clearanceEnergy Watch

New Delhi: The Central government has accepted a report prepared by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) in which the latter recommended exempting companies that undertake Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) in forest areas from the need to seek forest clearance. The Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change had granted an ‘in-principle’ approval to the DGH proposal last year and had also ordered a study on the impact of the technology on the environment. However, the final nod came on September 12 when the Central government wrote a letter to the state governments asking them to exempt ERD from the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

“Based on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee and acceptance of the same by the competent authority of the MoEFCC, the Central Government, hereby, accept the report submitted by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbon recommending to exempt the Extended Reach Drilling Technology from the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to undertake drilling in the forest areas, located outside the Protected Areas and Eco-sensitive Zones, subject to fulfillment of the following conditions,” the Environment Ministry told state governments in the letter.

What is Extended Reach Drilling (ERD)?

Extended Reach Drilling is the practice of drilling long, horizontal wells at a high inclination angle to reach underground oil and natural gas deposits instead of vertical wells. It allows operators to reach a larger area from one surface drilling location.

DGH report said that ERD will have ‘indirect’ impact on environment

In the report submitted on March 9, 2022, the DGH had said that there can be ‘indirect’ impacts of ERD, like forest fires resulting from oil leakages, soil surface contamination, etc. It had also said that no direct impact was noted on fauna. The DGH report on ERD had also been shared with Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for an impact analysis on wildlife. And the WII had warned about the impact on the fragile ecosystems and had also provided recommendations for oil and gas extraction in wildlife rich areas at a Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting on August 1, 2022.

The FAC again considered the matter at a meeting held on July 17 this year and accepted the general standard operating procedures suggested by the WII.

Station for ERD to be set up at a distance of 500m/1 km from protected areas

According to the letter sent by the Centre to the states, the station for ERD should be setup outside the forest area at a minimum distance of 500 metres and should be at least 1 Km from the Protected Areas /corridors/wildlife sensitive areas.

“The state government shall ensure that the recommendations made in the General Standard Operating Procedures, annexed as Annexure-I, submitted by the Wildlife Institute of India will be complied with strictly by the User Agency. The DGH will facilitate the formulation of detailed regional-specific guidelines by the Wildlife Institute of India. The necessary financial support, as will be required by the WII, will be arranged by the DGH,” the Environment Ministry said.

The region-specific guidelines, as may be prescribed by the WII, will be complied with by the user agency and the DGH, said the government. The exemption considered for the ERD technology will, however, not be applicable if the drilling area falls inside the Protected Areas notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Eco-Sensitive zone of Protected Areas, said the government.

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