The blowout from an Oil India Limited (OIL)-owned well near Assam’s Dibru Saikhowa National Park caught fire on Tuesday afternoon on the fourteenth day of the gas leak.
“We cannot say how and why it happened,” said Tridiv Hazarika, OIL spokesperson, adding that it is not unexpected for a blowout to catch fire since the gases which escape are highly inflammable.
A statement from OIL said: “While cleaning operations were on at the well site, the well caught fire. Fire tenders are at the site controlling the spread of fire.”
On May 27, the Baghjan 5 well in Assam’s Tinsukia district — located at a 900m aerial distance of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, and next to the Maguri-Motapung wetland — reported a blowout or a sudden, uncontrolled release of gas/oil. The incident occurred when two simultaneous operations were on at the site: servicing of the well-head, or the top portion of the well, and an operation to test a new sand in the same well.
Nearly three thousand people from Baghjan were evacuated into relief camps and at least one dolphin, one particolored flying squirrel and a variety of fish died as condensate — or the residue from gas condensing after coming in contact with water — spilled to a distance of 5km in the surrounding areas.
“It is a big fire but it is only around the plinth area of the well,” Bhaskar Pegu, DC Tinsukia district told The Indian Express. “The fire has not spread to water bodies around the well.”
As per OIL’s statement, “the situation demands arrangement of large quantities of water, installation of high discharge pumps and removal of debris.”
OIL’s Hazarika said that one firefighter from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) had sustained injuries and was in the hospital. “It is a minor injury and he is okay,” said Hazarika. As per DC Pegu, the fireman had to “jump into the water to save himself.”
While locals have said many houses have burnt, authorities said the fire has not spread.
Assam natural gas leak: Villagers carry out protest demanding compensation, protection of national park
“The fire is slowly spreading to the grasslands. Many houses nearby have been burnt. People from this area were evacuated but there has been damage to property,” said Jiban Dutta, who lives around the site.
However, DC Pegu said, “No houses have been burnt.”
People from surrounding villages, who had not been evacuated earlier, left their homes when they saw the well catch fire. The house of Gohin Borgohain (54), from Notun Gaon, is located about 2 km from the site.
“In the afternoon, there was a loud noise and we could see black smoke rising out of the well,” said Borgohain, “We heard that all the houses in Baghjan have burnt, so we have packed our belongings and left out homes too,” he said, adding that about 500 families of the village had left earlier in the day. “I do not know who went where but about 15 of us, along with our belongings, are now standing by the side of the road. We have not received help so far,” he said.
While the clearing operations were on at the well site, the well caught fire.There is no casualty reported. Fire tenders are at the site controlling the spread of fire. There r violent protests around the well site. Once the situation is normal, the experts will move to the site. pic.twitter.com/HaCgLGeQtr
— Oil India Limited (@OilIndiaLimited) June 9, 2020
The belongings, said Borgohain, is a bag containing their documents like the Pan Card and school certificates of his children. “We did not have time to pack clothes but we had kept this bag ready since we pre-empted something like this could happen,” he said.
According to OIL’s Hazarika, the hot weather could have played a role in the fire. “There are a lot of pipes on top of the well, and gas is flowing constantly at a high velocity — even the slightest friction can set it on fire. All these days, it was raining so that helped. But it was really hot today, so it could be because of that,” said Hazarika, adding that “to contain a blowout, with fire or without fire, the plan of action will be the same.” The fire, however, had added a new challenge.
— Chief Minister Assam (@CMOfficeAssam) June 9, 2020
As per OIL statement, the team from Singapore-based firm, Alert — who had flown in on Sunday — said all operations [to control the blowout] will take about four weeks.
The Chief Minister Assam handle tweeted that CM Sarbananda Sonowal had spoken to Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the phone and apprised him about the fire.
Earlier in the day, the CM called Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and urged him to “take urgent steps for putting out the fire”. He also called Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to deploy Air Force for controlling the fire.
A CMO release said, “All necessary steps have been taken by the State Government to ensure safety of local people in Baghjan and instructions have been sent to local district and police administration about the same.”
The statement also said the CM has directed the Chief Secretary and DGP “to take active steps to control the situation while keeping the armed and paramilitary forces, fire brigades, NDRF and SDRF engaged to ensure safety of the people in and around the affected area”.
Known to be one of OIL’s most prolific reservoirs, the Baghjan 5 well was set up in 2006 and produces around 80,000 standard cubic metres per day (SCMD) of gas from a depth of 3,870 metres.
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