Oil companies in India's northeastern state of Assam are responsible for polluting rivers and destroying rainforests and have been told to clean up their act or face closure, authorities said on Thursday.
Following an investigation in August, Assam's Pollution Control Board found the oil industry had for over four decades been destroying resource-rich areas through deforestation and preventing tree regeneration by not cleaning up spillages.
Pollution control officials also found that oil companies were contaminating groundwater by dumping sludge in ponds and polluting a major river by discharging untreated effluents, posing health risks to millions of people.
"For more than 40 years, oil companies have been polluting the state like anything," said Jawahar Lal Dutta, chairman of the Assam Pollution Control Board.
Assam produces about 15 percent of India's onshore crude -- with state-owned exploration companies, Oil India Limited and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited supplying crude oil to state-run Indian Oil Corporation's refineries.
Dutta said the investigation found refineries were discharging bio-chemical waste such as oil and grease, phenolic compounds and sulphide into the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries, well above permissible limits.
The Brahmaputra, home to the endangered Gangetic dolphin and other marine life, originates in Tibet and runs through Assam and Bangladesh before flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
India's economy has been growing at an average 8 percent over the past three years and the country is hungry for more energy, leading to state oil and gas firms stepping up exploration efforts in new areas.
Conservationists are concerned about new moves into Assam's rainforests by oil companies and say trees are felled by the industry to construct roads and access drilling sites.
They say the forest canopy is rapidly being destroyed, adversely affecting birds and primates like the Hoolock Gibbons.
Oil industry officials admit that they have been responsible for some of the damage but say they are trying to clean up pits and are also modernising to stop hurting the environment.
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