Sindh’s environment watchdog authority has rejected an impact assessment report prepared by the Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL) for its new project in Sinjhoro, Sanghar.
The project involves the production of oil and gas from 15 wells spread over 102 acres. At least 18 villages are located in the area apart from farmland, water channels, wetlands, lakes, forest and fishing points. At a public hearing on the Sinjhoro exploration block on Thursday, the environment officials pointed out that the report did not offer information about population, any precise socio-economic impact, and what would be done to rehabilitate people from the villages if they were forced to leave. It did not adequately addressed the issues of health, education, agriculture and water, among others.
“Surprisingly, it says the environment officials were consulted but they weren’t,” said the protection agency’s Waqar Hussain Phulpoto during a question-answer session after the presentation. “It has also overlooked consultation with the departments of agriculture, fisheries, wildlife, forests, archaeology among others.”
Another protection agency official, Ajmal Khan, brought up the ill-advised choice to hold the public hearing at a hotel located too far away from the project. “Only a few locals could make it to the hearing and let their voice be heard,” he said.
Prof. Khan Muhammad Brohi of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) said the project was good as far as the production of oil and gas was concerned. “Yet we should not ignore the importance of the environment for sustainable development,” he said. He was surprised that while well over a hundred people attended the public hearing they did not seem to represent the local community.
The project’s area covers the Chautiari wetland complex with all its flora and fauna. Rice, wheat and sugarcane are grown in the area which is also home to several lakes.
The environment impact report acknowledged that transport, storage and the use of chemicals can have a poisonous effect on the soil. Surface and ground water will also be affected if during the rains the chemicals flow into the waterways. Then there is the socio-economic and cultural impact oil and gas wells have. “The social traditions of this area are like those in other parts of Sindh,” the report said. “The tradition of holding wedding ceremonies is the most important. A week before the wedding ceremony, the singing of folk songs begins.”
The environment officials asked the company to prepare another report which includes all the shortcomings that have been pointed out. They also sought a complete report about the environmental impact of OGDCL’s other projects in Sindh. OGDCL’s Nadeem Ahmed Ansari assured that they would comply but that there was a shortage of registered environmental consultants in the market. “The protection agency should also approve consultants in the province and recommend that their services be hired by companies,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.