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The Fault Lines With Us: Why The Next Earthquake Will Be Our Doing

The world is barely coming to terms with the massive tragedy that struck the nation of Nepal on April 25th. The earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, followed by continual aftershocks has already claimed over 7000 lives, and is a grim reminder of how vulnerable the Himalayan region is to natural disasters of this magnitude.

The earthquake came just a couple of days after the US Geological Survey’s report stating that drilling for oil and fracking for gas were activating ancient faults in the earth which had not been disturbed for hundreds of years. This activation is caused by wastewater being left deep underground by the drilling.

Mrinalini

Photo Credit: Martin Luff

In light of these findings it is crucial that we reassess our government’s plan of drilling in the Himalayan region. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India, is considering the exploration of oil and gas reserves in the Bhimbargali-Naushera border belt in Jammu’s Poonch and Rajauri districts, but security concerns are preventing the same. This is in light of the fact that Pakistan has already discovered around 50 oil wells on the other side of the border in the region. In the lower parts of the Himalayas and surrounding foothills, Indian companies have already drilled down to 5000 metres in the Himachal Pradesh region.

More importantly, Indian oil companies are undertaking exploration works along the border near southern Nepal.

On the other side of Nepal, there has been oil exploration by the Chinese in the Himalayan region of Tibet, including a seven kilometre deep bore, apparently the deepest at such an altitude. The China Geological Survey has already signed a 20 million Yuan exploration deal with Sinopec to extract the enormous oil and gas potential in Tibet. In 2013, a landslidenear the Jiama Copper Gold Polymetallic Mine near Lhasa, killed 83 workers, a tragedy which was attributed to the perils of excessive mineral extraction.

The purpose of discussing these developments is to emphasise that the powers within the Indian subcontinent are proceeding on literally and figuratively, a shaky ground.

In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, eminent geologists from the University College Of London stated how changing drainage patterns, caused by melting of the Himalayan glaciers, the increase in rainwater and flooding were putting additional strain on the tectonic plates. They maintained that changing climate patterns would lead to many such extreme geological events in the future.

The insistence of relying on fossil fuels, and those so dangerously obtained, is not in the interest of the sustainability of its resources, people or economy. Moreover, the emissions resulting from these fuels also contribute toward future disasters, if the warning of the UCL scientists is to be heeded. There is a need to engage in the use of widespread renewable energy and ensure domestic penetration, if we are to satisfy our domestic goals and preserve foreign exchange, as opposed to trying to mine sensitive zones with immeasurable potential for devastation.

The Himalayas, as the source of all our glacial rivers, and their abundance of biodiversity, especially endemic species, are a region of significant ecological value. That alone should be deterrence enough of extraction and exploration in the area. However, the direct correlation between drilling, climate change and the instance of earthquakes, coupled with the regions pre-existing vulnerability to landslides and avalanches, is a scenario far too precarious to ignore.

In December this year, diplomats from across all states will try to negotiate a lasting treaty to reduce carbon emissions, and effectively mitigate and adapt to climate change. Before that, India is expected to release its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) outlining its plans for climate action. Many countries have already submitted theirs. As India outlines its policy, it needs to ensure that it takes a firm stand against excess mining and oil drilling, not only in its bid to reduce its carbon emissions, but also to ensure that it does not create a recipe for natural disaster for the entire subcontinent.

This article was originally published on Youth Ki Avaaz

About Mrinalini Shinde

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