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India needs a nodal agency to handle oil spills: TERI scientist

India needs a nodal agency to handle oil spills: TERI scientist
Until and unless the oil is not removed completely, there could be adverse impact for several years, expert says.

In the wee hours of 28 January two merchant vessels—MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram—collided near Kamarajar Port in Ennore, near Chennai. One of the ships, carrying almost 33,000 tonne oil, suffered damage leading to an oil spill. It’s been more than a week and clean-up operations are still on. Lapses on many levels have resulted in oil slick spreading along the coastline, possibly causing serious ecological damage. Lack of transparency and information regarding the amount of oil spilled has dogged clean-up efforts. InfraCircle spoke to Banwari Lal, senior director, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) on the impact of such a massive environmental disaster and steps needed to cope with it.

What is the impact of oil spills on environment?

Oil contains toxic hydrocarbon compounds. Once the oil layer spreads on water, it will float and restrict oxygen supply to marine life. As people consume sea food, oil can enter the food chain too, which can be toxic. Until and unless the oil is not removed completely, there could be adverse impact for several years.

Chennai is still reeling from the spill and the environmental impact is still unknown. How do you think the authorities should tackle such a disaster?

I think Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board or the Coast Guard should conduct a monitoring study, take water samples and check the oil concentration. A study should be done to know the accurate impact of this oil spill.

How is an oil spill cleaned?

In Chennai, the oil spill happened near the shore and if this oil comes till the rocky beach due to waves, manual cleaning would be difficult. You can’t use mechanical equipment to clean the rocks. That is why it has become all the more difficult and taking time. Equipment like high pressure jets can be used. Oil from the sand can be removed by mechanical equipment which can scrap the contaminated layer. Bacteria will degrade the soil and decompose the soil.

What steps should be taken to handle such oil spills in the future?

Different agencies are responsible for managing the disaster. There should a concrete plan. Instead of hit and trial method, clean-up work should be based on the topography of the area. Different equipment is used for cleaning up at rocky beach and sandy beach. There should be a single nodal agency for cleaning which should lay down standard operating procedures and guidelines.

Your research led to development of Oilzapper technology. Could you please explain how it works?

Oil is a complex hydrocarbon compound. We selected different bacteria and tested whether they are able to degrade it. We have developed a patented powder, light brown in colour, which is a cocktail of four different bacteria that degrade these hydrocarbons. In the sea too, there are bacteria that feed on oil. Many of these bacteria are slow, so we selected few that are faster and more effective. Once the oil is finished they will die because their food is gone. We successfully used it during the Mumbai oil spill incident in 2010. The Oilzapper technology is being also used on land as the country faces a bigger problem of oil leakage on land. Currently, this technology is being used in Gujarat, Assam, Mathura refinery, Guwahati refinery and wherever oil fields are present in the country.


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