Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Disaster Mangement, Science and Tech, Environment
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Why in News:

  • The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has granted the Terms of Reference to Vedanta Ltd’s Cairn Oil & Gas, to carry out Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for drilling a total of 274 offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration wells


  • Union government approved private and government players to explore and exploit unconventional hydrocarbons. Unconventional hydrocarbons are sources of oil and gas which require methods for extraction which are not normally necessary in the conventional extraction of hydrocarbons such as Coal bed Methane, shale gas/oil, tight gas and gas hydrates.

Coal Bed Methane:

  • India has the fifth largest proven coal reserves in the world.
  • The CBM resources in the country are about 92 TCF (2600 BCM) in 12 states of India.

Shale Gas:

  • It is a natural gas formed from being trapped within shale rocks.
  • ONGC estimates 187.5 Trillion Cubic Feet (TCF) of shale gas in Cambay, KG, Cauvery, Ganga and Assam basins in India.

Gas hydrate:

  • A naturally occurring, ice-like combination of natural gas and water found in the world’s oceans and Polar Regions. US Geological Survey states that India has the second largest gas hydrates in World.The Krishna Godavari, Cauvery and Kerala basins alone contributing 100-130 trillion cubic feet of estimated reserves.

Tight gas:

  • Tight gas refers to natural gas reservoirs locked in extraordinarily impermeable, hard
  • rock, making the underground formation extremely “tight.”
  • India’s Cambay field holds 413bn cubic feet of economically recoverable tight gas
  • NOTE: In 2018 The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has liberalised the definition of petroleum to bring more hydrocarbons such as coal bed methane and shale gas.

Benefits of Unconventional Hydrocarbons:

  • With appropriate safeguards, they can provide a cleaner source of energy than other fossil fuels.
  • Creates jobs and provides economic benefits to the entire domestic production supply chain, as well as to chemical and other manufacturers, who benefit from lower feedstock and energy costs.
  • Increase domestic production – aspiration of 10% reduction in imports by 2022
  • Build infrastructure – Greenfield and brownfield refineries, petrochemical plants, pipelines, LNG terminals.
  • It will attract FDI & technical expertise.

Challenges in Exploitation of Unconventional Hydrocarbons Challenges in Shale Gas exploitation:

  • Use of water: (Fracking technique) uses around 5-7 million litres of water per well.
  • The massive amount of water used in the fracking process has led to water shortages in some drilling areas.
  • Environmental concerns: Fracking has led to extensive deforestation and flooding of the nearby area.
  • Groundwater contamination: Environmentalists say potentially carcinogenic chemicals are used in shale gas exploration which will contaminate groundwater.
  • Earthquakes: Fracking process can cause small earth tremors in the region.

Challenges in Coal Bed Methane exploitation:

  • Simultaneous operations of Coal Bed Methane and coal mining by multiple owners results in management issues.
  • Despite the huge reserves, a mismatch exists between estimated resources and gas in- place.
  • There is a possibility of damage of gas wells resulting in explosive atmosphere in coal mines during simultaneous extraction of coal and CBM.
  • Multiple ownership for simultaneous exploitation may not be desirable for the life, health and safety of the workers employed in such mines.
  • Safe   Operating    Procedures    (SOP)for  simultaneous    exploration    are   not   effectively implemented.


New policy framework on Unconventional Hydrocarbon

  • New policy will be carried out under the existing production sharing contracts and nomination fields. It will also enhance production of unconventional hydrocarbons in the existing fields.

Future impact of new policy on Unconventional hydrocarbon:

  • Will lead to induction of new, innovative and cutting-edge technology and forging new technological collaboration to exploit unconventional hydrocarbons.
  • Will enable the realization of prospective hydrocarbon reserves in the existing Contract Areas which otherwise would remain unexplored and unexploited.
  • Will reduce import dependency on oil and gas by 10% by 2022.
  • To promote ease of doing business in the oil and gas sector in India to attract higher foreign investments.
  • Exploration and exploitation of additional hydrocarbon will spur new investment, impetus to economic activities, additional employment generation.

Way Forward:

  • Unconventional energy sources are significant for India’s Energy security, but there should be a balance between exploiting energy sources and Environment.
  • Shale Oil and Gas Authority should be set up.
  • Early roll out of Policy on Unconventional Energy sources will provide an impetus for alternate Energy development in India.
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