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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Oil well blowout near Assam national park yet to be controlled; environmentalists fear adverse impact

Environmentalists raised an alarm on Friday when locals found a carcass of a Gangetic dolphin with its skin peeled in the Maguri wetland near the oil well.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati | Updated: May 30, 2020 11:24:16 am
assam national park oil spill, Oil India Limited (OIL) oil spill, assam oil leak, Currently, OIL team along with a crisis management team from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGCL) and an expert team from ONGCL, Vadodara are on the job. (Source: Rishu Kalantri)

More than 60 hours after an oil well — owned by Oil India Limited (OIL) in Upper Assam — experienced a blowout, authorities are yet to bring the leak under control. On Wednesday morning, a blowout — or an uncontrolled release of natural gas — was reported at the Baghjan Oilfield of OIL in Tinsukia district. The area is located in the close vicinity of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

As the blowout continued till Friday evening, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal discussed the situation with both Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Minister of Steel, and Chandra Mishra CMD of OIL, asking the latter to ensure that the leakage is stopped at the earliest.

“We are in the process of carrying out the operations, expert teams are here. A lot of arrangements need to be made to get the spillage under control,” said OIL spokesperson, Tridiv Hazarika, “We need to get a huge supply of water, lay a pipeline, move in heavy equipment and much more. Once these things are in place we can control the well. There is no shortcut to the preparation.”

Environmentalists raised an alarm on Friday when locals found a carcass of a Gangetic dolphin (an endangered species as per IUCN), with its skin peeled in a wetland near the area.

According to a release by OIL, the blowout was reported at 10.30 am Wednesday when a producing well under Baghjan Oilfield “suddenly became very active while work over operations were on.”

After the incident, nearly 500 people have been evacuated from the Baghjan village, and are now at a relief camp in a school. “Some are also living with their own relatives too,” said Bhaskar Pegu, Tinsukia DC. “We are planning to put up another relief camp on Saturday.” On Friday, the authorities also extended the radius of the designated hazardous area from 600 metres to 1.5 km.

Currently, OIL team along with a crisis management team from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGCL) and an expert team from ONGCL, Vadodara are on the job.

DC Pegu said that a heavy smell of gas hung in air, and oil condensate has spread and settled on nearby wetlands too. The Baghjan Oilfield is located right next to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, known especially for its migratory birds and feral horses.

Environmentalists raised an alarm on Friday when locals found a carcass of a Gangetic dolphin — in the “endangered” category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)) — with its skin peeled in the Maguri wetland. “Even a number of fish have died — by tomorrow we will know the extent of the damage,” said Jiban Dutta, a bird guide based in Tinsukia, who had visited the site.

Added Niranta Gohain, an environmental activist based in Tinsukia: “This is the bird nesting season and fish breeding season. The oil spill has had an adverse effect on biodiversity — especially this is because an eco-sensitive zone.”

The authorities said that the carcass of the dolphin has been sent for a post mortem to determine the cause of the death. “We are concerned too but if the gas had adversely impacted the wildlife of the area, we would have seen many more dead animals,” said Hazarika, “We are not discounting the fact that this dolphin could have died because of the spill but we can be certain once the post mortem report is in.” Earlier this month, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had given environmental clearance for drilling at seven locations under the Dibru Saikhowa national park.

In a statement minister Pradhan on Friday said: “OIL wants to reassure the local people of the area that their wellbeing, health and safety is the top priority for the company. OIL is also closely monitoring the environment and doing the best to minimise the impact.”

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