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Oil cos stumble on Olive Ridley ground
Jyoti Mukul in New Delhi | July 07, 2005 09:04 IST
Oil exploration companies operating in the Mahanadi basin and in the adjoining Krishna Godavari basin may now have to closely watch the path of half-a-million endangered Olive Ridley turtles that come there to nest every year from January to March.
After two years of discussions and studies, the government seems to have made up its mind on giving the go-ahead to exploration work by Reliance Industries and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in these areas.
Officials told Business Standard that after resisting a decision, the environment ministry recently asked RIL to proceed with exploration but stop drilling during the nesting season.
These turtles nest annually during January-March on the beaches of Gahirmatha at the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary in Orissa's Kendrapara district, the mouth of the river Rushikulya (Ganjam district), and the mouth of the Devi (Puri district).
While Orissa beaches are the main nesting sites for these turtles, experts said beaches further north along the coasts of West Bengal and Bangladesh also host some of these endangered species every year.
Two Reliance exploration blocks, NEC-OSN-97/2 and MN-DWN-98/2, were awaiting environment clearances due to migration of the threatened turtles. One of the blocks is right on the return path of these migratory turtles who travel long distances to nest along the Orissa coast.
Over the past few decades, the Olive Ridley population has dropped due to poaching at nesting sites for the female's skin and meat. It nests at only five beaches in the world with the Orissa coast being the most significant.
At a recent meeting, the petroleum ministry had asked the ministry of environment and forests to let Reliance proceed with the second stage of development activity. A tracking study of the turtles could simultaneously be carried on by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, it felt.
"The study was initially suggested to be funded by the directorate-general of hydrocarbons under the ministry of petroleum but now it will be part-funded by the two companies," said an official. In the event of any adverse impact of the exploration work on the species, it was noted, the companies would be asked to take conservation measures.
In a presentation during the meeting, RIL maintained that the turtles only congregate on the near shore, which is within 10 kms of the coast, and that the presence of offshore rigs beyond 50 kms would not influence the activities of the Olive Ridleys.
The company also cited examples of the US, and countries in West Asia and Southeast Asia, where the area within 3 nautical miles of turtle-feeding and breeding grounds is notified as restricted.It also said that in petroleum-rich regions like the Gulf of Mexico, turtles are known to co-exist with the offshore platforms, drilling rigs and pipelines with no major consequences.