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Assam natural gas leak: OIL reaches out to global experts as gas flows ‘uncontrollably’ for seventh day

Even as OIL described the current status of the well as “flowing gas uncontrollably”, so far, 2,500 people from about 650 families from nearby areas have been evacuated and put in three relief camps set up at schools

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati | Published: June 3, 2020 5:11:56 am
The blowout at Baghjan Oilfield was reported last week when a producing well unexpectedly became ‘active’. Imon Abedin

With the natural gas leak from an oil well in Assam’s Tinsukia district continuing for the seventh day on Tuesday, government-owned Oil India Limited (OIL), which owns the rig, said that it had reached out to global experts to control the blowout.

The blowout — an uncontrolled release of natural gas — was reported on Wednesday last week when a producing well under Baghjan Oilfield unexpectedly became “active” during operations.

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal called Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan for the second time in the week requesting help, including announcing adequate compensation for the victims. The Joint Secretary from the Union Petroleum Ministry has been directed to rush to the site to take stock of the situation.

OIL’s communications manager, Tridiv Hazarika, said on Tuesday all the necessary permissions had been expedited to call in a Singapore-based expert team if the leak cannot be plugged by Thursday. The Singapore-based team is supposed to reach on Wednesday.

“This is a huge exercise, which requires a lot of preparation and we are doing what we can. 30-40 people are on the site at any given point. This is not like a house catches fire which we can easily douse. It is more complicated than that,” he added.

Even as OIL described the current status of the well as “flowing gas uncontrollably”, so far, 2,500 people from about 650 families from nearby areas have been evacuated and put in three relief camps set up at schools. OIL said that they have also arranged another camp on standby in cases they need to accommodate more people.

According to local residents, condensate — the residue from gas condensing after coming in contact with water — can be found upto 5km from the site. Imon Abedin, a student whose home is roughly 1.5 km from the site, said, “ We can smell the gas but those who are nearby are saying that their eyes constantly burn and are even complaining of respiratory issues.”

The delay is also affecting the region’s biodiversity. The rig is located right next to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. On Friday, a carcass of an endangered Gangetic dolphin was found in the Maguri-Motapung wetland, a large wetland right next to rig.

Local residents have also reported more deaths from the wetland including those of a snake and a variety of fish and birds.

Tinsukia’s divisional forest officer’s (Wildlife), Rajendra Singh Bharti, told The Indian Express that the leak had a considerable impact and that a team of scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India were carrying out a survey from four days to gauge the effect of the leak in the region.

“They are collecting water samples, fish and also doing a survey of the vegetation…” he added.

Assam Pollution Control Board chairman, Y Suryanarayana, said he was on his way to the site to assess the situation.

Activists from the area say not much is being done. “Birds are dead, chickens are dead, fish are dead. There has been loss of livestock. Condensate can be found at my eco camp which is 5.5 km away from the site. We don’t see any action on the ground,” said environmental activist Niranta Gohain.

A statement from OIL said it was “awaiting the observations and findings of the District Administration, Forest department, Pollution Control Board so that all necessary steps can be taken.”

On Tuesday, OILalso issued a show cause notice to M/s John Energy Pvt Limited — the Gujarat-based firm which was carrying out activities in the well when the blowout happened.

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