April 16 (UPI) -- The legacy of oil refining in India, one of the world's largest economies, shows the industry can develop with little risk to the climate, OPEC's leader said.
Mohammad Barkindo, the secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led a delegation to India to visit the Digoi refinery, one of the oldest in the world and the origin of India's oil industry.
The first well there was tapped in the late 1800s. Now, Barkindo said the environmental legacy of the area shows processing can proceed without harming the surrounding landscape.
"I saw greenery around the well and the refinery," the secretary general said in a statement. "The oil industry that has fueled the current civilization is climate friendly."
Most of the major incidents of oil pollution came from collisions of tankers traveling through India's crowded waters. Refineries, however, are among the top industrial sources of air pollutants in the world, releasing harmful chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides that may be linked with cancer. Nitrous oxides are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.
Barkindo's visit followed the announcement of an agreement between the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and French energy company Total to build a refinery in India that carries a $44 billion price tag. At its peak, the refinery would be able to process 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, making it among the largest in the world.
Year-over-year, Indian imports of petroleum, crude oil and petroleum products increased more than 40 percent, according to economists at OPEC.
Meanwhile, as party to the multilateral Paris climate agreement, India has set a goal of reducing its emissions by about 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. State-owned Indian Oil Corp. and online transportation network company Ola took a step toward a greener India in November with the launch of the country's first-ever electric vehicle charging station in Nagpur, the largest city of central India.