Sudipta Majumdar, Ph.D.
Amity Business School
Amity University Kolkata
Mr. Amit Mathur paid a farmer 10,000 INR to get permission to drill for oil on a farm in Trombay (Maharashtra, India) and promised to remove the black ooze that would damage the crops. Mr. Mathur was lucky as he found large oil reserves in that area. Big oil companies immediately acquired the surrounding land and Trombay became one of the major petroleum producing regions of India. In a span of a few years, it had started distributing 12 billion barrels of oil and 113 billion cubic feet of natural gas mined in Trombay. This helped companies gain high profits. It also helped in the industrial development of the surrounding area as well as the state (Maharashtra).
But it has raised the pollution levels of Trombay extensively. The oil refineries at Trombay dumped tons of waste containing potentially toxic and heavy metals like carbon and organic chemicals into water for many years. The water in the surrounding areas of Trombay was contaminated by the toxic wastes. The towns near Trombay were also affected as the industrial wastes were dumped off in old wells in the adjoining areas. The off-shore drilling sites dumped the wastes into nearby canal water. People of Trombay had to face serious water pollution problems. Out of the 54 water wells, 50 contained heavy metal deposits.
Much of the pollution associated with oil and gas production was because of the salt and the drilled out mud. In Trombay, the petroleum reserves were found in salt domes and to pull the oil or gas from there, one has to drill the salt out of these domes. When a well is drilled, thousands of litres of brine (salt water) come to the surface. This is then pumped into disposal wells that have been drilled into porous rocks. Drilling mud, another major source of pollution was used to lubricate the drilling bits and flush the drill cuttings to the surface. The mud is a mixture of viscous clay, weighing agents, and chemicals used in different proportions. Weighing agents and heavy metals such as barium, chromium, arsenic, lead, titanium and zinc were added to solidify the rock and prevent it from collapsing. The chemicals used were carbolic acid, caustic soda, ammonia bisulphate, zinc chromate, formaldehyde, asbestos, asphalt and phenols. One third of the drilling mud was forced into rock formations, while the rest of the mud was recycled. The underground water supplies were polluted by the salt, heavy metals and chemicals disposed of by the petroleum industry.
In Trombay, environmentalists found unacceptable levels of salt, heavy metals and chemicals in drinking water. It was two to three times more than what was found in the drinking water of rural farms and small towns throughout the southern part of Mumbai. As a result, many people living in Trombay suffered serious health problems. Many died of cardio pulmonary arrest and with liver cancer. In a nationwide survey conducted on death caused by cancer, the centre for oil and gas production in the state ranked in the top 5%.
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