Four months into the Baghjan tragedy — where an Oil India Limited (OIL)-owned well in Assam experienced a blowout and subsequently caught fire — OIL authorities said that they will take at least one more month to control the well.
“A team of foreign experts along with new equipment are expected to arrive from Canada by October 12,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson, OIL, “If all goes well, we should be in a position to ‘kill’ [or completely shut down] the well by the end of October.”
On May 27, a blowout or an uncontrollable release of natural gas was reported at well number 5 in the Baghjan oilfield, located close to the ecologically-sensitive zones of the Dibru-Saikhowa national park and Maguri Motapung wetland in Tinsukia district. On June 9, the well caught fire, affecting the surrounding wildlife, displacing thousands from their homes and leading to the deaths of two firefighters.
While experts from Singapore-based Alert have already been on the site since June, the new team will be carrying out the “snubbing” operations at the well.
“It is a technology which is not available in India and has the ability to deal with high pressure wells,” said Hazarika, “Without going into technical details, this particular technology aims to reach the bottom of the well through a network of pipes. ”
OIL resorted to ‘snubbing’ technology when they failed to control the well after reaching the penultimate stage of operations in mid-August. Following that, in the second week of September, experts successfully managed to divert gas from the well (while one portion of gas was diverted for production, the other portion was flared) in a bid to prepare the well for the snubbing operation.
Baghjan blowout: First phase of final ops to cap oilfield successful
“As a result, the pressure at the wellhead has reduced considerably—while earlier gas was being released at 4,000 PSI, it has now reduced to below 2,000 PSI. This will help make it much easier for the snubbing unit to operate with reduced pressure,” said Hazarika, adding that the fire and sound has reduced to a certain extent giving temporary relief to locals living in the surrounding areas.
While the authorities feel that the snubbing operation should succeed, they are also making arrangements to build a relief well. “In any operation, there is always a 10-15 per cent chance it might not work out. In case, the snubbing operations fail for some reason, the last resort is to build a relief well,” said Hazarika.
“Here, we basically drill a well a little away from the current well, try to reach it underground horizontally, and then attempt to divert the entire flow of gas to the new well,” he said, adding that it was a very time-consuming and challenging operation, which would delay the process by three-four months.
Meanwhile, the locals who were protesting for increased compensation in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office since August 24, called off their protest on September 18. “The authorities have said that they will look into increasing the compensation,” said Hemanta Moran, of the Baghjan Gaon Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha, which organised the protest. An expert committee formed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) recommended three categories of compensation: Rs 25 lakh for those whose houses were completely destroyed, Rs 10 lakh for those severely damaged, and Rs 2.5 lakh for those moderately damaged.
Added Moran: “They have also agreed to our demand of moving people out of the relief camps into rented accommodations. Hence, we called off the protest.”
Initially, 3,000 families were in various relief camps around the area. Locals say that while the vibrations in the surrounding area have reduced, the sound still remains.
Last week, those living in the Baghjan relief camp moved out of the camp. “The district administration had identified 612 families who were particularly affected by the blowout for compensation,” said Diganta Saikia, Tinsukia DC, “People who were in the main Baghjan relief camp have moved out and now made their own arrangements to stay in surrounding villages. They are being compensated with Rs 50,000 per month from OIL through the district administration to take care of rent and other incidental expenses till the blowout is controlled.”
Said Hazarika: “We are also in talks with those people currently at the Guijan relief camp. They, too, will soon move to rented accomodation and be compensated for.”
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