GUWAHATI: The influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) launched a 96-hour oil blockade at 6 am on Monday to protest an alleged move by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to sell of its oilfields to private firms.
A maximum security alert was sounded in Assam to foil attempts by student protesters to halt crude oil and natural gas production in the region, officials said.
“Hundreds of picketers blocked vehicles carrying workers to the oilfields and it could be matter of time before we are able to hit crude oil production,” Sarat Hazarika, a senior AASU leader, said.
The entire ONGC operations in Assam are in the eastern districts of Sibsagar and Jorhat.
“There has been some impact due to the strike, but so far crude oil production is going on uninterrupted,” an ONGC official said by telephone from its regional headquarters at Nazira in eastern Assam.
“We have intensified security around all the oil installations to run our operations smoothly.”
The ONGC last week announced a Rs 24 billion investment plan for upgrading facilities and equipment to boost crude oil production in Assam.
The investment is part of the Rs 44 billion Assam Renewal Project involving comprehensive replacement and expansion of equipment and facilities, drilling of hi-tech wells and revamping of ageing drilling rigs.
Hyderabad-based Sairama Engineering Enterprises, Megha Engineering, in consortium with Russian company Volgo bagged the contract for the Assam Renewal Project.
The AASU and other pressure groups allege the ONGC was planning selling off its assets by awarding contracts to private firms.
“The ONGC is slowly moving towards privatisation of the Assam oilfields thereby risking jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of locals working here,” AASU general secretary Tapan Gogoi said.
The ONGC denied there was any move to sell-off assets in Assam or privatising its oilfields.
The prime objective of the Assam Renewal project is to enhance operational efficiency besides revamping of pipelines, modernisation of existing equipment and installation facilities to boost production of crude at the company’s units at Lakwa, Lakhmani, Rudrasagar, Geleki and Moran in Assam’s Sibsagar district.
ONGC also projected Assam’s oil production to double in the next couple of years from the current levels of 1.2 million metric tonnes annually from its nearly 40 oilfields in the state.
Assam has over 1.3 billion tonnes of crude oil and 156 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves of which about an estimated 58 per cent is yet to be explored. India produces about 30 million tonnes of crude oil annually, with Assam accounting for about five million tonnes of the total. Apart from ONGC, Oil India Ltd (OIL) is the other major exploration firm operating in the northeastern state.
A senior ONGC official said only half of over 300 oil wells the company has in Assam were functioning.
ONGC is India’s largest company by market capitalisation with oil and gas exploration and production operations throughout India and in Russia, Vietnam and Sudan among other countries.
But frequent strikes and protests in Assam has adversely impacted production of crude oil, besides incurring heavy financial losses for the oil giant.