| Oil spill at Changpang village oilfield. Telegraph picture |
Kohima, July 21: A private oil company today began drilling operations in Nagaland’s Wokha district after the government gave it the licence to do so, braving opposition from several organisations and even militants.
The oil exploration will be carried out by a New Delhi-based private firm, the Metropolitan Oil and Gas Pvt Ltd (MOGPL).
Chief minister T.R. Zelia-ng today today formally launched the resumption of drilling after a gap of almost 20 years in Changpang under Bhandari subdivision in Wok-ha district in the presence of home minister Y. Patton, senior government officials and some Naga organisations.
The government has announced that it would also award licences to more companies in the near future.
Not only some Naga organisations, the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim (GPRN), the underground government of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, has opposed resumption of oil explorations in the state adding that it would not issue a licence to the MOGPL if all procedures and methodologies were not followed.
The oil companies would also have to obtain licences from militant outfits, including the NSCN, and pay “taxes” to them.
The ONGC had abandoned oil exploration in the state in May 1994 because of various reasons, including threats from militants.
In March 1994, ONGC was served an ultimatum by the NSCN (I-M) demanding payment of Rs 10 million for extracting and exploiting a scarce resource of the “Naga Republic”. The Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), too, asked the oil major to close down operations.
The NSF argued that under the provisions of Article 371 A of the Constitution, ownership of natural resources within Nagaland lies with the people and so ONGC has no right to extract crude from the oilfields of the state.
The state government had several rounds of talks with Naga organisations and landowners of oilfields in the state, but because of differences on compensation issue the state government could not resume operations till date. Oil spill from abandoned oilfields, however, has become an environmental hazard that damaged thousands of acres of land.
The ONGC estimated a geological reserve of 110 million barrels of oil with a recoverable reserve of approximately 1,600 barrels per day.
Oil spills from OIL and ONGC well sites have severely affected Changpang and Tsorri villages.
More than 2,000 people have seen their farmlands, forests and water sources they rely on for survival, contaminated because of spillage. Several international and national oil companies, including those from the US, Germany and other European countries, wanted to operate in the state.
Landowners have also been demanding a refinery in the state and the state government has promised to look into it.
Zeliang today said his government would make all efforts for the welfare of the people and urged them to extend support to the government to explore natural resources in the state.