Following the blowout and fire at an Oil India Ltd (OIL) well in Upper Assam, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Saturday announced that they would jointly visit to the site in Tinsukia district for a “ground understanding of the situation”.
The visit was announced after Pradhan met Sonowal in Guwahati on Saturday.
On June 9, the Baghjan 5 well—close to the ecologically-sensitive Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland— caught fire, 14 days after it had reported a blowout, or an uncontrolled release of natural gas. The incident led to the death of two firefighters from OIL, while displacing thousands and causing extensive damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
As per a release from the Chief Minister’s Office, Pradhan stressed on working “on a war footing to cap the well”. He also assured that his ministry is closely monitoring the situation and assured that all necessary steps would be taken by the Centre to provide succour to those affected. The government had earlier announced Rs 30,000 as an immediate relief measure for affected families .
“We will go there, do a field visit, meet the residents, and listen to what they have to say. We will also review the preparation for the operations to cap the blowout,” said Pradhan, speaking to the press in Guwahati on Saturday evening.
The incident has led to a slew of high-level inquiries: Apart from OIL’s internal probe (which has led to the suspension of two officials), the Centre and state governments are also investigating the matter. On Thursday, the Union Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas ordered a three-member high-level committee to probe the incident. Sonowal’s one-member committee, also announced Thursday, is supposed to respond within 15 days. Apart from that, as per protocol, government agencies (Directorate General of Mines and Safety and Oil Industry Safety Directorate) will also carry out their own inquiries. Sonowal has also directed Additional Principal Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) M. K. Yadava to conduct a study on the effects of the explosion on the environment and ecology of the surrounding areas.
Earlier this week, the Wildlife Institute of India, submitted a preliminary report on the impact of the blowout on the aquatic flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape. “The spill has resulted in mass mortality and severely impacting the environmental condition resulting in debilitating conditions for species to survive. The toxic fumes and oil coating has universally affected flora and fauna” said the report. It also suggested that the approved new wells and explorations in this area should be initiated only “after a thorough investigation of potential impact.” In May, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had given environmental clearance for drilling at seven locations in the area under the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
As per a statement by OIL on Saturday, preliminary work of arranging facilities for well control operation has begun. OIL has also roped in the North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST), Jorhat to carry out a study to see if there is any induced seismicity due to the blowout. This was after the local population in the area reported tremors up to a radius of 3km from the well site since Wednesday. “These tremors come and go — I went home to feed my hens yesterday and saw that some parts of the wall in my home have faint cracks now,” said Jyotish Borgohain, a 41-year-old resident of Notun Gaon, about 2 km from the site. He is currently at one of the 12 relief camps set up by the Tinsukia district administration. However, as per a Guwahati-based retired geologist, these quakes are a common outcome of an incident like this. “This is an induced tremor caused due to the displacement of the strata because of the huge force with which the gas is continuously flowing out,” he said, that it was nothing much to worry about.
As per OIL’s statement, there has been a production loss of 500 MT of crude oil from 23 oil wells and 0.46 MMSCM of natural gas from 3 o gas wells. “This is because there have been blockades elsewhere in Tinsukia district which has impacted our production,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson of OIL. The blowout may take up to 30 days to control.
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