Foiled extract: Abandoned reserves in Wokha tell a grave tale
Recent visit of NSF leaders to Changpang oil field ignites hope for landowners once bitterly letdown by ONGC and government
S Henlly Phom
Dimapur, May 16: Of the many reasons the Lotha community in general is proud of its Lotha Students Union (LSU), chief is the latter’s stance to uphold the position of the Naga Students Federation (NSF) on the issue of oil exploration in Changpang and Tssori villages of Wokha district.
In 1994, the NSF had led the movement for a ‘rights-based approach to development of the oil and natural gas resources’ being explored by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) at Changpang and Tssori. This led to the closure of the entire exploration.
The reasons were simple: the rights of the landowners were not respected as the ONGC continued to explore beyond the agreed terms; and the benefits accrued were not shared substantially by the state government with the people.
This was the statement made by Advisor to IT, Science and Technology and NRE, Mmhonlumo Kikon at Bhandari town during the recently concluded NSF conference.
The legislator brought up the Changpang oil issue at the conference to bring to attention whether the rights of the people have been respected; whether the people have been allowed to determine for themselves in which way development should take place?
“How has the apex bodies of the Nagas responded to this issue? Have they been able to secure and articulate the rights of the people that they must represent? Or have there been collusions of various agencies to deprive the right to development of the people?”
Also, he hoped that the visit to Changpang oil field by the NSF was part of examining the community resurgence, to question the issue of sustainability and “to assess political harm and restore cultural practices.”
The Naga notion of sustainability, he stated, involves upholding one’s responsibilities to the land and the environment and giving back more than one takes, rather than simply residing on the land.
According to Green Foundation, Wokha the negotiation for oil exploration and survey in Nagaland started as early as 1963, the same year when Nagaland state came into being. It was reported that ‘trial exploration’ was granted to ONGC for only 18 kilotons of crude oil.
“Exploration and prospecting activities were carried out between 1963 and 1973 without any Petroleum Exploration License (PEL) from the state government. Oil was struck in 1973 at CN-I rig in Changpang-Tssori belt, PEL was issued on Nov. 20, 1973 and the then minister for Geology and Mining JB Jasokie inaugurated the CN-I rig at Changpang on Dec. 20, 1973. (The same rig is currently under Assam’s control due to land encroachment/dispute).”
It further mentioned that production started on March 28, 1981 without obtaining Petroleum Mining License (PML), as such, the state government suspended ONGC operations on May 17, 1981. The suspension was revoked and work permit was issued to ONGC on June 1, 1991, on the condition that “ONGC will abide by whatever agreements the government may arrive with the government of India in this regard even with retrospective effect.”
As the entire episode was “not transparent,” the people started questioning the ONGC and the state government on numerous issues including royalty and MoU. Due to pressure from the public, the Lotha Students Union and the NSF, the state government suspended all operations in Nagaland on May 5, 1994.
“Government records reveal that at the time of closure in 1994, ONGC drilled five exploratory wells in Dimapur, one in Changki under Mokokchung, one at Bhandari in Wokha district and 31 wells at Changpang in Wokha district. In Changpang alone, 21 wells were oil-bearing and two were gas-bearing,” according to Green Foundation.
Over the period, ONGC extracted 1.02 mmt of oil (7.6 million barrel) with a total production rate of 328 tonnes per day (2444 barrels) from 16 oil wells.
ONGC also produced 10.23 million cubic metres (cu.m) of natural gas, of which only 1.34 million cu.m were commercially utilised while the rest were flared. Out of the 1.02 mmt of oil and 1.34 lakhs cu.m of gas commercially extracted, ONGC paid only INR 33.84 crores as royalty to the government of Nagaland; out of which the landowners received 67.67 lakhs only in the year 2004.
On receiving the shutdown notice from the government, ONGC hurriedly abandoned the wells “without following existing rules that governs proper abandonments, decommissioning, remediation, reclamation and consolidation protocols.”
The result was that, Changpang oil field continues to remain an environmental hazard, affecting people’s lives, occupation, health and natural vegetations.
In 2014, the then government under TR Zeliang launched the oil exploration activity to be carried out by the Metropolitan Oil & Gas Pvt. Ltd. in Changpang and Tssori in Wokha amid vociferous protests from the community.
Legislator Kikon recounted that in 2014 the then Nagaland government went ahead with issuing permit to explore, despite the ‘legitimate and peaceful overtures’ by the LSU for a meaningful dialogue on the Nagaland Petroleum and Natural Gas Rules. The response, he recalled, was “brutal” as the state government refused any dialogue and decided to award the permit to a company with little or no experience of exploration and exploitation of oil resource.
The president of Lotha Lower Range Public Organisation, Elithung Lotha said the landowners and the people of the area were hoping that oil extraction will resume, “but for the benefit of the landowners.”
He said ‘vested interests and jealousy’ within the community had led to suspension of oil extraction.