New Delhi: An expert forest panel has cleared the path for Reliance Industries Ltd’s (RIL) methane gas exploitation project in Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh. The panel has now recommended diversion of about 85 hectares of forest land, according to the minutes of the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) meeting in November that were reviewed by Mint.

RIL’s Coal Bed Methane (CBM) project in Shahdol is worth Rs3,000 crore and involves about 942.7 hectare of non-forest land. CBM gas is a form of natural gas produced from coal reservoirs containing 95-97% methane. It is also considered a clean energy source which can be used in power generation and fertilizer industry.

The recommendation came after the meeting of the FAC on 9-10th November where the latter was considering diversion of about 88.8 hectares of forest land for construction of well, laying of pipeline and approach road for methane gas exploitation.

The project, which requires removal of 28,538 trees, already has environment clearance.

It was considered by FAC in its previous meeting in August 2016 too when the panel had observed that the, “forest area proposed to be diverted appears to be large" and asked environment ministry’s regional office to inspect the site, “for exploring the possibility of reducing the forest area proposed to be diverted".

The regional office, Bhopal inspected the site and in October submitted their report. The report of R.O. Bhopal recommended that the “suggestion of the user agency to drop five wells may be accepted and save about 3.8 ha of forest land and 1679 trees."

“After careful consideration and discussion on the facts placed before it and discussion with the nodal officer, Madhya Pradesh, FAC recommended grant of approval for reduced area i.e. 88.85 hectares - 3.8 hectares = 85.05 hectares reducing five wells also," said the minutes of the FAC’s meeting in November.

FAC, however, stipulated that the company, “shall protect and conserve including by way of plantation in blanks of the forest area which is not in operational use for exploitation of methane gas, laying of pipelines and approach road if any even if it is diverted".

“No felling of trees will be resorted for construction of roads," the minutes said.

While justifying the need of forest land, RIL had told the FAC that “these forest locations are crucial from the point of field productivity and change in these locations will adversely impact CBM output of the field".

“RIL was granted Environmental Clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forest for its CBM Project in 2008. Further, RIL had applied for forest diversion to carry out drilling activities in the forest area covering 80.85 hectares. RIL’s proposal was recommended for grant of approval in the Forest Advisory Committee meeting held on 10th Nov 2016," said RIL in reply to Mint’s query.

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