Five-and-a-half months after it erupted, Oil India Limited’s (OIL) Baghjan well in Assam’s Tinsukia district was brought under control on Sunday, authorities confirmed.
A statement from OIL said that the well was successfully “killed” with brine solution, and the fire doused completely.
On May 27, a blowout or an uncontrollable release of natural gas was reported at well number 5 in the Baghjan oilfield, located close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung wetland. On June 9, the well erupted in flames, leading to possibly one of the longest and most challenging industrial disasters faced by the PSU and resulting in deaths of three employees — two fire-fighters in June and a 25-year-old electrical engineer in September.
The incident led the state and Centre to order probes, and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to constitute an expert panel in June.
“The fire was doused at 12.30 pm this afternoon,” said Tridiv Hazarika, OIL spokesperson. “Simultaneously, the well pressure came down to zero and we were able to successfully kill [or completely shut down] the well.”
After several setbacks in control operations, including an on-site accident, delays caused by the annual floods, and a failed attempt to control the well in mid-August, the company resorted to a technology called “snubbing” — brought in from Canada — to kill the well.
“The snubbing operation started on November 9,” said Hazarika, “In a well-killing operation, snubbing is never option A. We resorted to this only when our earlier methods of killing the well at surface level did not work out for various reasons.”
The snubbing technology works at the base of the well through a network of pipes, said Hazarika. “It is fairly heavy equipment — we had to use the largest cargo transporter aircraft, AN 124 Russian, to fly in equipment weighing 60 tonnes from Canada.”
OIL’s statement said that the well will be observed for 24 hours to check “if there is any amount of gas migration and pressure build up.” “That is standard safety protocol but experts are hundred per cent sure that matter has been resolved,” said Hazarika, adding that they will “abandon” the well thereafter. “This means we will never produce from this well again,” he said, explaining that there is always an option of reproducing from a controlled blowout well. “But taking into account various reasons, including the current health of the well, we will shut it down for good. This involves putting cement plugs at various depths and might take about 14 days.”
When on June 9, the well caught fire, 57 homes were gutted and nearly 9,000 people displaced into various relief camps set up around the area. While some have been able to move back to their homes, locals said many, bothered by the constant sound and pollution in the area, have left the area.
“It feels strange that everything is so quiet now,” said Jiban Dutta, a local tourist guide and owner of an eco camp, who lives in Natun Gaon, about 2.9 km form the site. “For the past six months, there has been constant noise — like that of an aeroplane overhead. It’s such a relief not to hear that.”
Akheshwar Chetia, a farmer, whose home and garden — located 50 metres from the site — was damaged by the fire, said it was good to know the well had been killed, but was worried about compensation. Chetia, with his wife and three daughters, spent four months at a relief camp, and moved about 40 km away to Tinsukia town two months back to put up in a rented accommodation, paid for by OIL. “I really hope the entire compensation comes through,” said Chetia over the phone from Tinsukia, “Even if the fire is doused, we cannot possibly go and live in that house anymore — we lost not just our cows, goats, fields, crops, but our mental and physical peace too.”
The NGT expert panel has fixed compensation of Rs 25 lakh to 173 families affected by the blowout and the fire and Rs 20 lakh to 439 families who were less affected. As per an earlier statement from OIL, the company has released Rs 36.90 crore in compensation till date.
Hazarika said OIL was committed to do anything required to mitigate the damages the blowout caused — either to the population or to the environment. “Yes, there has been an impact but let us wait for the various agencies to submit their assessment reports and see how much damage has actually been done,” he said.
While the final NGT expert report is expected in December, preliminary status reports recommended legal action against the OIL, reiterating the various transgressions by the company in its operations at the Baghjan oilfield.
Hazarika said he did not want to comment on the matter since it is sub-judice. “We will respond when the final directive from NGT is received,” he said.
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