By Ashwin Parthasarathy
The natural gas sector is looked upon as a transition fuel, however there are many issues that are linked with its ongoing expansion. The Indian approach is not in tandem with the climate change goal enumerated in the Paris Climate Accord. We explore some of them through this blog and the need for a careful rethink on the sector’s trajectory.
Natural Gas Scenario in India
India has set a target to increase the share of natural gas in its energy mix, which is currently at 6%, to 15% by 2030 and work towards a gas-based economy1. This will be achieved by expansions and setting up of existing and new Regasified Liquefied Natural Gas (RLNG) & Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU) Terminals, increase in offshore and onshore exploration and production, development of Coal Bed Methane blocks (CBM), and
building up nationwide transmission pipeline networks. India plans to invest about USD 60 bn to develop gas infrastructure between 2021-20252.
In recent years, the demand has increased significantly due to the higher availability of domestically produced gas, development of transmission and distribution infrastructure, savings from the use of natural gas instead of coal, and favourable economics of supplying gas. The city gas distribution (CGD)3 and fertilizer sector continue to remain the two largest contributors to natural gas demand, accounting for more than 51% of gas consumption in the country. The network of gas pipelines is about 19,285 km, which would be partially commissioned/operational with an expansion to up to 33,510 km over the next few years. The government has envisioned a ‘One Nation One Gas Grid’ policy that is attracting investments in the natural gas ecosystem.
The investments in the natural gas value chain are not 1.5°C compatible, creating a dependence on technology and resources that are neither economically nor socially attractive. Research suggests there are different risks along the supply chain of natural gas4. The expansion of gas import and downstream gas infrastructure is subject to significant transition risk. There are existing stranded assets in the power plant sector to the tune of INR 65,000 cr. The cost of renewable electricity generation is already at a record low and is likely to increase the stranding of gas power plants with similar experiences faced in the United Kingdom and Germany. The increase in imported gas is exposing the country to geopolitical and economic risks. Given the investments in the fossil gas sector, the following section will touch upon the impacts of the fossil oil and gas sector.
Environmental, Climate change and Social Impact
Infrastructure development, power supply, land, water and other allied facilities are critical for the setting up of various oil and gas projects. These projects are also sites at the centre of major climate change, environmental and social impact. The intensity and impact of any project are far-reaching, beyond the immediate site of production. The following are some of the key areas of concern.
Hydrological Impact: Water is used in various phases of gas production, which is required from drilling fluid to clean and cool the drill bit, evacuate rocks and sediment and provide pressure to prevent wells from collapsing5. The process of fracking is linked to the contamination of surface and groundwater resources with benzene, methane, radiation and a wide variety of other chemicals.
Air Emissions: The accidental discharge during a blowout/ fire emits a large amount of gas containing sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and other nitrogen particles hazardous to human health, forest life, marine life and vegetation growth. Both offshore and onshore oil exploitation activities are an important source of these emissions during controlled flaring and venting that are very harmful.
Noise Pollution: The seismic surveys for exploration use about 250 decibels which impacts those habitats closer to the sound and even the life of cetaceans and birds and also causes displacement in the aquatic ecosystem.
Soil Ecosystem: Some of the significant impacts on soil include contamination due to operational discharges, accidental releases, and changes in drainage patterns. The erosion of soil tends to change the landscape and causes the pooling of water. The pollution of soils causes loss of organic matter and topsoil, leaching of nutrients, changes in soil pH, salination and other forms of soil degradation. Frequent spills, leakages and blowouts make the soil completely unproductive.6
Human Health: The potential hazards include direct skin contact with polluted oil and water; drinking contaminated water; eating crops or fish from polluted sources and breathing air polluted by chemicals and particulates that include partial combustion of oil and gas. Some of the widespread symptoms include respiratory problems like asthma, coughing eye, nose, eye and throat irritation; headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Biodiversity: The loss of fauna is of concern in any exploration site as disturbances bring about a slow recovery due to long gestation periods. The loss of vegetation affects the nutrient cycles, removes organic litter and reduces the availability of habitat for wildlife. The vegetation loss due to construction could disturb the ecosystem’s stability beyond redemption. The loud noises, human movement and vehicle traffic from drilling operations could disrupt animal communication, breeding and nesting. The powerlines, well pads, fences and roads could fragment the habitats of many species. Some of this infrastructure could hinder the migratory patterns.7
Habitat and Livelihood Loss: The impact of leakages and spills is not limited to marine ecology alone, but it also impacts the fisher community. Commercial activity can severely be impacted by the perception of tainted fish. The public concern about eating fish exposed to spills/leakages can damage the market for fish from an affected region. There are tremendous losses faced by those who are dependent on fishing. The laying of a pipeline (Paradip Hyderabad Pipeline)8 and even exploration (Cauvery Basin)9 across agricultural lands are being opposed in various parts of the country by farmers which is at the cost of their livelihood.
Displacement due to projects has an unsecured future for communities as they depend on project authorities for their resettlement and rehabilitation which is not conducted appropriately and need-based.
The 2018-19 Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Petroleum and Natural Gas raised concerns over the risk involved with workers and other operation-related issues in the oil and gas sector.
(the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas) does not mention about the availability of any mechanism for continuous monitoring and enhancing the level of safety and security of the installations. Moreover, the steps taken to study various safety aspects in other parts of globe as well as any institutionalized mechanism for regular interaction, coordination and cooperation with external agencies in these aspects have also not been spelt out in the reply. This shows that the Ministry has not carried out any review exercise in the light of the observation of the Committee. In the Committee’s view, OISD (Oil Industry Safety Directorate) being a technical body under the Ministry and manned by the officials drawn from oil PSUs on deputation may not be able to effectively enforce the safety rules and regulations. The Committee, therefore, reiterate their recommendation that safety, security and environmental aspects in the oil and gas sector particularly in its various installations, plants, units etc. should be given utmost priority and direct the Ministry to take appropriate steps to institutionalize the review of rules and regulations governing the industry in a time bound manner so that their standards are at par with international standards.10
Even with such observations from the parliamentary committee, the administration has carried out the business-as-usual approach against the ongoing leakages which continue to take place in various parts of the country (Annexure attached). The path to fossil gas needs a careful rethink if there is a focus on driving a serious effort towards transition without fiscal and financial impact in the future. With the current expansion and impact of gas operations, we are likely to witness hyper-stressed assets and heavily polluted regions.
- In June 2014, a major fire broke out following a blast in GAIL’s 18’’ size underground gas pipeline at Nagaram in East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. The incident took place near Tatipaka refinery of ONGC. About 23 people well killed and around 40 were injured due to incident11. The pipeline was ‘prone to leakages’ and warnings of an impending disaster went unheeded for a long time as concluded by the high level probe.12
- A report points out that there were 200 cases of pipeline gas leaks in 2019 and 350 in 2018. It is caused by unscientific excavation by civic and private agencies. GAIL blames the civic and private agencies for negligence.13
- In May 2020, there was a leakage of gas pipeline at Turpupalem village in Malikipuram Mandal of East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh. The villagers alerted the officials and brought the issue to their notice.14
- In February 2020, a leakage from cracked gas pipeline connected to Katrenikona mandal of East Godavari district. This was the second gas pipeline leak incident in the same district with the earlier one at Antarvedi. The locals blamed the PFH Oil and Gas Private Limited and ONGC management for poor maintenance of pipelines.15
- In February 2022, a major underground pipeline was ruptured in Pune, Maharashtra that caused gas leakage in the region. This was due to the use of heavy machinery at an under construction site at use.16
- In March 2021, at Nagarwada in Vadodara fire broke out due to gas leakage in the pipeline. Though there was no loss to life and property but damage was due to the salvaging activity. The leakage was caused as the gas pipeline was punctured while laying underground cables for CCTV cameras under the Smart City Project.17
- In December 2021, a leakage in Gujarat Gas Pipeline in Amritsar led to massive fire in open area at Verka Milk Plant. Since it was an open area there was no casualty.18
- In December 2020, two people died and four were injured due to a gas pipeline blast near the ONGC’s Kalol field in Gujarat. Two houses collapsed after the pipeline exploded due to gas leakage.19
- In August 2020, a pipeline burst took place in Assam’s Geeky oilfield that is being developed by ONGC. The leakage occurred in underground four inch pipeline followed by a small blast and gas came out.20
- In May 2020, a major gas and oil leak occurred at Baghjan oilfield of OIL in Tinsukia district of Assam. The blowout in one of the wells resulted the leak of natural gas. The leak caught fire and resulted in deaths, large scale local evaulation and environmental damage to the nearby Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung Wetland. The blowout was killed only after 173 days in November 2020. It was found that OIL did not have the required clearances before drilling.21 22
- In September 2021, a leakage took place in the LPG and CNG pipelines of Prayagraj.23
- In August 2021, a gas leak occurred in ONGC pipeline at Dhananjoynagar in South Tripura district. The locals saw gas was gushing out of the pipeline.24
- In March 2021, a major fire broke out near the EPS facility of OIL India in Into Changeling district of Arunachal Pradesh.25
- Oil Spills:
- Drill Ship- Platinum Explorer (ONGC) off Paradip on 22.08.2014 80 Barrels (App. 3.8 KL) Inadvertent internal transfer during drilling operations.
- Off Kamarajar Port, Ennore, Tamilnadu on 28.01.2017 151.45Metricton Collision between MT Dawn Kanchlpuram, and MT BW Mapia.
- Outer Anchorage Mumbai Harbour on 30.01.2018 2-3 Drums of Bunker Oil Accidental spillage during bunker transfer on MT Jipro Neftis.
- Kamarajar Port, Ennore, Tamilnadu on 18.10.2018 02 Tons of Furnace Fuel Oil Accidental spillage from MT Coral Stars due to bursting of fuel line
- Single Point Mooring of M/s HPCL, Off Vizag on 11.08.2019 40-50 Kilo litres of Crude Oil Accidental snapping of hose
- Single Point Mooring of M/s HPCL, Off Vizag on 03.10.2019 4-5 Kilo litres of Crude Oil Rupture of hose used for SPM operations.27
- India sets target to raise share of natural gas in energy mix to 15% by 2030 – LiveMint
- India plans $60-bn investment in gas infrastructure: Dharmendra Pradhan – Economic Times
- Monthly Report on Natural Gas Production, Availability and Consumption – April 2022. Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas
- Natural Gas in India: A pathway towards reducing India’s dependency on gas. Climate Action Tracker, May 2022
- FAQ 3: oil and gas, poverty, the environment and human rights. ODI
- Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas. Union of Concerned Scientists
- 7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment | The Wilderness Society
- Dhinkia Villagers unhappy as IOCL starts pipeline work – The New Indian Express
- Illegal Business: The Real Story of ONGC’s Operations in Cauvery Basin. Cauvery Delta Watch
- Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas (2018-19)
- Nagaram blast: Probe nails GAIL, says it ignored disaster warnings
- Gail Gas Pipeline Blast In Nagaram Of East Godavari Completes One Year
- 200 cases of pipeline gas leaks last year
- ONGC gas pipeline leaks in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari
- Gas leaks as pipeline develops crack
- Pune: Gas pipeline ruptures, tragedy averted as leak controlled in time
- Fire in Nagarwada from gas leakage
- Gas pipeline leak gives jitters to Amritsar residents
- Two dead in India gas pipeline blaze
- ONGC gas pipeline bursts in Assam, no damage reported: Official
- Baghjan oil blowout: Report indicates a long road to recovery and ecological restoration
- Baghjan oil blowout: Report indicates a long road to recovery and ecological restoration
- Gas leakages in Prayagraj’s CNG pump, situation under control
- Gas Leak from ONGC Pipeline Triggers Panic in South Tripura
- Arunachal Pradesh: Gas pipeline leakage causes fire, Indian Army comes to rescue
- Lok Sabha Unstarred Question
- Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No: 179