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Monday, July 13, 2020

Assam oil well continues to leak ‘uncontrollably’ one week after explosion

2,500 people have been evacuated and many animals — including varieties of fish and an endangered dolphin — killed, as Oil India Limited reaches out to global experts to control the leak.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati | Updated: June 2, 2020 4:07:47 pm
Assam oil well continues to leak ‘uncontrollably’ one week after explosion Tridiv Hazarika, OIL, said all necessary permissions have been expedited so that Singapore-based expert team Alert can be called in if the leak cannot be plugged by Thursday. (Photo courtesy: Imon Abedin)

An oil well in Assam continues to leak with natural gas pouring out for the seventh day and counting. On Monday, the government-owned Oil India Limited (OIL), which owns the rig, said in a statement that it has reached out to global experts to control the blowout.

The blowout — or an uncontrolled release of natural gas — was reported last Wednesday morning when a producing well under Baghjan Oilfield in Tinsukia district unexpectedly became “active” during operations. Tridiv Hazarika, OIL, said all necessary permissions have been expedited so that Singapore-based expert team Alert can be called in if the leak cannot be plugged by Thursday. “All work is progressing but not as per our calculation because of the challenges we are facing,” said Hazarika, “This is a huge exercise, which requires a lot of preparation and we are doing what we can. There are 30-40 people on site at any given point. This is not like a house catches fire which we can easily douse. It is more complicated than that.”

Imon Abedin, a 19-year-old student, whose home is at an aerial distance of 1.5 km from the site, said they can constantly hear the sound from the oil well. “Condensate has covered parts of our house too. We can smell the gas but those who are nearby are saying that their eyes constantly burn and are even complaining of respiratory issues,” he said. According to locals, condensate, or gas which has come in contact with water either from the rain or the fire tenders present at the site, can be found up to 5 km from the site.

Assam oil well continues to leak ‘uncontrollably’ one week after explosion At least 2,500 people have been evacuated and put in three relief camps set up at three schools. (Photo courtesy: Imon Abedin)

As OIL described the current status of the well as “Flowing Gas Uncontrollably”, 2,500 people have been evacuated and put in three relief camps set up at three schools. On Monday, Sushil Chandra Mishra, CMD, OIL said that “OIL will take all possible care to provide them necessary compensation.”

However, the delay in containing the leak has affected not just the residents of the surrounding villages of Baghjan area, but also the biodiversity, considering the rig is located right next to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

While on Friday, a carcass of an endangered Gangetic dolphin was found in the Maguri-Motapung wetland, locals have now said that a dead snake, a variety of fish and birds have also been reported from the wetland.

A carcass of an endangered Gangetic dolphin.

Rajendra Bharti, DFO, Tinsukia (Wildlife) Division, said that there has been considerable environmental impact in the area. “However, a team of scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India has been there for four days and are carrying out a survey,” Bharti said, “They are collecting water samples, fish and also doing a survey of the vegetation to assess the impact.” The report of the post mortem report of the dolphin — which was carried out on the day it was found — is not available yet. The chairman of Assam Pollution Control Board, Y Suryanarayana, said that he was on his way to the site to assess the situation.

“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,” said Niranta Gohain, an environmental activist in the area, “We don’t see any action on the ground.”

Assam oil well continues to leak ‘uncontrollably’ one week after explosion According to locals, condensate, or gas which has come in contact with water either from the rain or the fire tenders present at the site, can be found up to 5 km from the site. (Photo courtesy: Imon Abedin)

The statement from OIL said that it was “awaiting the observations and findings of the District Administration, Forest department, Pollution Control Board so that all necessary steps can be taken.” OIL has also earned the ire of environmentalists when last month, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change gave environmental clearance for drilling at seven locations under the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. However, OIL has maintained that they are drilling with requisite permissions from the Government of India and that these areas do not fall under the Eco Sensitive Zone.

Meanwhile, OIL has also issued a show cause notice to M/s John Energy Pvt Limited, a Gujarat base firm which was carrying out activities in the well when the blowout happened. “They were the private party we had outsourced operations to. While we have issued a show cause notice to them, we are also trying to find out where the in-house team of OIL faltered.”

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