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Assam: After directing OIL to shutter Baghjan ops, pollution control board withdraws notice

The decision to withdraw the notice comes a day after Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said authorities need to be "more sensible”.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: June 23, 2020 1:00:24 am
assam gas leak, assam blowout, Baghjan gas well, assam gas leak news,Baghjan tragedy assam Tinsukia, Oil India Limited (OIL), assam news, latest news Baghjan 5 well near Dibru-Saikhowa National Park caught fire 14 days after it had reported a blowout (Express Photo by Diganta Rajkhowa)

Three days after directing Oil India Ltd (OIL) to shut down all operations in Upper Assam’s Baghjan oilfield, the Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) has withdrawn its closure notice.

Over the last month, the Baghjan oilfield has become the sight of a disaster after one of its wells — located close to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park —  caught fire two weeks back, following a blowout on May 27.

A release from OIL on Monday said: “Chairman PCBA spoke to CMD-OIL today and the Closure Notice is in the process of being lifted.”

The decision to withdraw the notice comes a day after Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said authorities need to be “more sensible”, when asked about the matter in a press conference in Dibrugarh.

“We need to be more sensible,” news agency PTI quoted Sonowal as saying. “A lot of industries, such as the thermal power plant in Namrup, Assam Gas Company, Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Limited and all tea gardens in upper Assam are completely dependent on OIL,” he said.

Y Suryanarayana, chairman, PCBA, confirmed the withdrawal. “We withdrew the closure notice on the basis of an affidavit submitted by OIL. Today they applied for Consent to operate (CTE) and paid fees also,” he said.

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PCBA’s closure notice, issued on June 19, said that OIL had been operating the Baghjan oil field installation “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate from Pollution Control Board Assam, which is a serious violation of the provisions of the Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981 as well as Environment Protection Act, 1986”.

It also cited a number of alleged environmental transgressions by the PSU.

The letter sent to the chief executive of OIL on June 22 said that the closure notice was withdrawn on the basis of an affidavit submitted by OIL, stating several conditions. “M/s Oil India Ltd. shall have to submit a detailed time bound Environmental Management Plan within 15 (fifteen) days from the date of issue of this letter for environmental mitigation and extinguishing of fire at the Baghjan Oil Field and act accordingly” stated the notice.

The other conditions require OIL to “apply for Consent to Operate (CTO) under Section 25 of the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Section 21 of the Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 separately for each and every drilling, production and other installations along with environmental management plan and requisite documents” within one month.

“They [OIL] had applied in cluster form and we asked them to apply independently,” said Suryanarayana, without providing further details.

The PSU also has to submit all details of “hazardous waste generated, disposed and treatment facilities as per the Hazardous & Other waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016”, apply for “authorisation under E-Waste (Management_ Rules 2016)” and “submit the return as per Batteries (Management & Handling) Rules, 2001 framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 within July 31″.

On Sunday, OIL had said it will file a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court challenging the closure notice. “After the conversation between PCBA chairman and OIL CMD, we have come to the conclusion that legal route is not required. We have mutually come to an agreement,” said Tridiv Hazarika, OIL spokesperson.

The Baghjan oilfield has 21 functioning wells — four of them are gas wells (including the one that reported the blowout) and 17 are oil wells.

Since the blowout, a number of blockades and protests by locals at different installations of OIL have been reported.

On Monday, OIL said that while the Baghjan EPS blockade had been lifted, protests in other areas continue. “Producing oil/gas wells continue to be stopped/blocked in some areas resulting in significant loss of oil & gas production. Further, drilling and workover operations at 6 locations also continue to be obstructed.” said the statement. Approximately 11,000 people from nearby villages are currently in relief camps set up by the administration.

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