Farmers vs Oil Giants: The Fight Against the $44 Billion Refinery

Farmers vs Oil Giants: The Fight Against the $44 Billion Refinery

Farmers vs Oil Giants: The Fight Against the $44 Billion Refinery. Indian farmers battle against oil giants ADNOC and Aramco.

In Maharashtra, India, Sultan AL Jaber’s dual role as CEO of ADNOC and president of COP 28 is not a potential conflict of interest. It is an actual one. Thousands of Indian villagers are currently protesting, over ecological concerns, against a mega refinery backed by the COP28 President.

A $44 billion refinery covering 6,000 hectares

In April 2023, while lobbying Western countries as COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber was pushing an opposite agenda in India as the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). On April 25, the Maharashtra government started conducting soil testing at Barsu village in the coastal Ratnagiri district to know if the site was suitable for a new mega refinery.

Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. is a joint venture between Middle East and Indian state-owned oil giants, with ADNOC holding a 25 percent stake in the project. With a planned capacity of 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day (60 million tonnes a year) and around 18 million tonnes per year of petrochemical products, Ratnagiri Refinery project is one of the world’s largest refinery and petrochemicals complexes. It is proposed to be set up in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra State, in the coastal Konkan region, western India. It is expected to cost $44 billion.

Ratnagiri oil refinery will consist of three main blocks (the refinery, aromatics, and petrochemicals) and marine and port facilities. The land required to accommodate such a gigantic project is huge: The project is estimated to cover nearly 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres).

Peaceful protests and brutal repression

The April 2023 soil survey triggered mass protests by thousands of villagers who vehemently opposed the mega refinery project on the grounds of environmental degradation, pollution, displacement, and loss of livelihood.

Ratnagiri is a rural community and the best place to base while exploring the ecologically rich and picturesque Konkan coast, which has long been the stage for conservation battles and is part of the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The region is home to small farmers and fisherfolk whose livelihood depends on the environment.

Protests erupted, with residents of 6 villages taken to the streets. On April 25, scores of women protested by squatting and lying on the roads to stop the officials from entering their villages.

Women protestors laying in front of police vehicles in Barsu village, April 25, 2023.

The police deployed a massive force of about 2,000 and imposed a curfew in the region, but the protests intensified in the face of the crackdown. The police used batons and teargas to disperse crowds. Hundreds were detained, and many were arrested on charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, and disobedience to public order.

Maharashtra police using force against protesters, April 28, 2023 (Credit Indianexpress, Twitter)

On May 8, hundreds of people, mainly women, sat on a day-long hunger strike against the Ratnagiri refinery, asking for the release of the arrested activists and villagers.

Villagers in hunger strike, May 8, 2023 (Credit:

Al Jaber’s key role in the project

Indian farmers and activists’ protests against the Ratnagiri Refinery project date back to 2018.

On June 25, 2018, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) took up a 25 percent stake in the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. ADNOC acquired the stake from Saudi Aramco, which had previously partnered with a consortium of Indian-state run companies. ADNOC and Aramco jointly own 50% of the project, with the remaining 50% owned by the Indian consortium (Indian Oil Corp, Bharat Petroleum Corp., and Hindustan Petroleum Corp.)

The agreement was signed by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of ADNOC Group CEO, Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, Sanjiv Singh, Chairman of the Indian Oil Corporation, M.K. Surana, Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, D. Rajkumar, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Petroleum Corporation. As per the agreement, Aramco and ADNOC will supply half of the crude oil required for processing at the refinery.

Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and M. M. Kutty, Secretary of India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, witnessed the signing.

The signing ceremony of the agreement to invest in Ratangiri Refinery. From right, sitting, are Al Jaber, Nasser, and Kutty. Behind them are the UAE Foreign Minister and India’s Minister of Petroleum. (Credit: Aramco)

Speaking at the event, Al Jaber made clear ADNOC’s ambitions to expand oil operations: “By investing in this project, we will secure off-take of our crude to a key growth economy, as well as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing refining and petrochemical markets.”

Farmers vs Oil Giants: The Fight Against the $44 Billion Refinery

On October 15, 2018, Sultan Al Jaber met with Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, at the India Energy Forum. As an example of the growing energy links between India and the UAE, Al Jaber highlighted ADNOC’s strategic partner in the Ratnagiri refining and petrochemicals complex.

(Credit: CERAWeek, Twitter)

Initially, the refinery was supposed to be in the Nanar region of Ratnagiri. However, due to strong opposition from the locals, environmental activists, and a heavyweight regional political party, the project was relocated 20 kilometers away in the Barsu region, sparking a new series of protests. 

A textbook case of conflict of interests

The protests are ongoing, with women leading villagers and activists’ rallies in Barsu.  Campaigners grow stronger on social media using hashtags like #No_To_Barsu_Refinery, #say_no_to_barsu_refinery, #savekonkan. According to activists, the ADNOC-backed Ratnagiri refinery, one of the world’s biggest integrated petrochemical complexes, will destroy the coast and the region’s ecology.

The preparations for COP28 are ongoing, too. The UN Conference, which should find solutions to climate change, will be held in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

The thing is, the CEO of ADNOC and the President of COP28 are the same person.

Written by Eagle

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