CHENNAI. 09 August, 2017 — Scientific analysis of soil, groundwater and surface water samples from Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam confirm delta villagers’ fears that hydrocarbon operations by ONGC and CPCL are harming the environment. The study also concluded that ONGC had failed to observe international best practices in responding to the June 30 oil spill leading to spread of contamination to public water courses and the Velloor irrigation canal. All seven samples – including four soil, two surface water and one groundwater – are contaminated by hydrocarbons linked to oil extraction or refining. Releasing the results in Chennai, the Solidarity Group for Justice and Accountability, a state-wide alliance of individuals and people’s organisations, called for an independent third-party audit of the environmental impacts of ongoing hydrocarbon activities and remediation of contaminated sites at ONGC’s cost. They demanded for the release of jailed villagers, and prosecution of negligent ONGC, TNPCB and district officials.
The results also contradict claims made by the state government, and hydrocarbon majors like ONGC and CPCL.
ONGC’s claim: Oil leaks and spills are promptly attended to; contaminated lands are fully restored.
What the Results Say: 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. More than five acres in the vicinity of the contaminated field also lay fallow. Local farmers said rainwater flowing from the oil leak site had rendered surrounding fields also infertile. Crude oil pollution compromises the water holding capacity of soil, harms soil microbial population and reduces crop yields, particularly for paddy.
ONGC’s claim: People prevented ONGC from tending to the June 30 oil spill and resultant contamination in Kathiramangalam
What the Results Say: Two sets of water and soil samples were taken from the Mr. Sriram Ramamoorthy’s certified organic farm that bore the brunt of the June 30 oil leak from ONGC’s crude oil pipeline. One set of surface water and soil samples were taken 10 days after the incident from a location about 50 feet away from the epicentre of the spill. The other was taken from the epicentre of the leak 13 days (soil) and 15 days (water) after the leak.
Surface water sample taken from the epicentre of the pollution contained 33.9 mg/L of TPH. The sample from 50 feet away was mixed with rainwater and contained 2.4 mg/L of TPH. The soil taken 50 feet from the epicentre contained 438 mg/kg of TPH, while the soil in the epicentre contained 1118 mg/kg. Uncontaminated surface water of irrigation quality or uncontaminated farmland soil should not contain any TPH.
Photographs taken by Kathiramangalam farmers reveal that contamination has been carried by rainwaters into the Velloor irrigation canal. ONGC has ignored repeated requests by the land-owner and farmers of surrounding lands to clean up the contamination.
Government Claims: Hydrocarbon extraction and processing does not harm the environment
What the Results Say: 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 water had a strong odour of rotten egg suggesting the presence of hydrogen sulphide. Mineral oil contamination of groundwater is a result of petroleum refining. From oil spills to underground leaks, hydrocarbon extraction and processing activities are seen to be harming the environment.
Coming as they do when the government has announced plans for a 250 square km Petrochemical investment region, the results raise the disturbing prospect of similar pollution in the areas proposed to be covered by PCPIR.
The spread of contamination into the Velloor Irrigation Canal is a criminal offence as a public water source is being poisoned. Rather than act against the offender, the district administration has jailed villagers.
For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401