Methane Extraction in Cauvery Delta
A fastest growing country like India must have its energy requirements duly filled. But in the process of attaining energy security, is it ok if the citizens’ livelihood and lives are risked? A private Energy company named ‘Great Eastern Energy Corporation Ltd(GEECL) based in Gurgaon, Haryana won the license for exploration of Coal-bed Methane (CBM). The exploration revealed a methane reservoir in the Cauvery (also spelt as Kaveri) Delta region in the state of Tamil Nadu. In the delta region, three districts Tanjore,Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur were identified as the potential spots for extraction.
In the agricultural history of India Tanjore district has earned a name ‘The Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu’. This would vouch for the fertility of the landscape here. Later in 2010 the same company won the license to extract methane gas and coal deposits in the proposed regions in the aforementioned three districts that totally comprises about 667 sq.km of fertile land. Having won in a bidding in the center the company managed to get the nod from the then government in rule (DMK) as well. But the heavy opposition from the farmers in the Cauvery delta region along with the environmental activists had forced the project from taking off.
Methane deposits are found deep under the ground. The extraction process of methane is called Hydraulic Fracturing that is said to affect the environment adversely. In simple this procedure involves drilling deep holes in the sites vertically downwards till the depth of methane deposit is reached. Once the depth is reached the drilling takes a horizontal route. The methane deposits are trapped amid the rocks, there. Hence the rocks are to be crushed so as to release and extract methane gas. This is done by fracturing the rocks using highly pressurized fluids- comprising various chemicals and sands suspended in water- hence the name.
There has been a controversy for long, internationally, over the issue of concealing the list of actual chemicals used by companies during extraction. Besides, the process holds the risk of flaring and burning, not so unusual in coal or natural gas exploration sites.
“The State of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act’s (AB32) proposed Mine Methane Capture Protocol (MMCP)1 has extremely strong potential to become a major driver of national and international coal mining and fossil fuel extraction in Indigenous Peoples’ and non-Indigenous lands, as well as profiteering and increased environmental degradation…”
– California’s Methane Offsets (Coal Mine Methane Capture Protocol)- An Indigenous Environmental Network Briefing, March 2014
We hear if the project takes off, it would seriously threaten the livelihood of thousands of farmers in the delta region. They are already cursed enough with the Dispute over sharing the Cauvery river water with the neighboring state of Karnataka. As methane extraction, it is said, could also spoil the water reserve in the region, this will only worsen their situation.
Pointing the extraction processes of coal, oil and natural gas around the country by major companies, one might argue, what’s wrong with carrying the project owing to national interest, even if it’s risky? But they should remember that these fields are far from human habitats hence human lives in such places are not put at risk immediately.
My social studies text books introduced my country as an Agricultural nation, during my school days. Ironically never have I seen government taking serious steps to protect at least the existing cultivatable lands and the livelihoods of the poor farmers, if not improving their standards.