Assam’s pollution watchdog has told Oil India Ltd (OIL) to shut down production and drilling at all installations in Upper Assam’s Baghjan oilfield after discovering that the company had allegedly started operations “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate” from it. OIL’s set-up in Baghjan, where a well has been burning for days after a blowout, is said to have been functioning since 2003.
The closure notice, sent by Pollution Control Board, Assam (PBCA) to the chief executive of OIL, also cited a number of alleged environmental transgressions by the PSU.
The ecological disaster at Baghjan in Tinsuika district was precipitated by the blowout at well number 5, reported on May 27. On June 9, the well—located close to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park—caught fire, leading to the deaths of two OIL firefighters. Around 11,000 people from the surrounding villages are now in relief camps set up by the administration.
The development was confirmed by Y Suryanarayana, chairman, PCBA. “We had earlier (on June 10) issued a show cause notice to OIL. They had asked us for an extension of time to reply. But we issued the closure notice after one week,” said Suryanarayana, adding that the notice applies to all wells under the Baghjan oilfield.
As per the closure notice from PCBA — issued on June 19 — OIL has been operating the Baghjan oil field installation “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate from Pollution Control Board Assam, which is a serious violation of the provisions of the Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981 as well as Environment Protection Act, 1986”.
“It is mandatory to obtain prior permission / clearance from MoEF&CC as well as State PCB for production, drilling, pumping of crude oil and laying pipeline activities as per EIA notification, 2006 and various provisions under the Section 25/26 of the Water (Prevention of Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Section 21 of the Air (Prevention of Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Authorization under the Hazardous & other waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 as amended upto date” said the notice.
Assam gas leak Explained: why it’s tough to plug, and what threat it poses to the area
OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika said that the company did not want to comment “as of now”. An official from OIL, requesting anonymity, said that it will seek legal recourse on the matter.
Update on blowout in Gas Well of Oil India Limited at Baghjan, Tinsukia District, Assam (21.06.2020). pic.twitter.com/5w0bxDCouV
— Oil India Limited (@OilIndiaLimited) June 21, 2020
“The Baghjan wells have been functioning since 2003. PCBA is part and parcel of our daily operations and every time we do something they are taken into confidence,” said the official. “Of course, the blowout situation merits proper investigation but if OIL does not have necessary clearances and we have flouted rules — as PCBA is suggesting — why was it not brought up earlier by them?”
The Baghjan oilfield has 21 functioning wells — four of them are gas wells (including the one that reported the blowout) and 17 are oil wells. As per Hazarika, the wells are extremely high yielding reservoirs.
Meanwhile, OIL is trying to grapple with the losses in production caused by protests and blockades at different installations owned by them.
Since the blowout, 30 oil wells and five gas wells in different locations have faced production losses because of blockades carried out by local people. As per a release from OIL on Saturday, a tripartite meeting was underway between the district administration, OIL and Baghjan Gaon Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha to resolve the issue.
The PBCA notice includes points such as “not submitting annual report regularly under Section 9 of Hazardous & other waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016”, operating the oil field without installing an effluent treatment plant, as well as environmental repercussions of the blowout on the surrounding eco-sensitive zones, including damage to the Maguri-Motapung wetland.
“OIL was required to take adequate measures to prevent spillage of hazardous wastes into water bodies through designated drains and treatment facilities and to further prevent measures to mitigate oil spillage and fire hazards” said the notice. It also alleged that OIL had destroyed aquatic life of Dibru-Saikhowa and Maguri-Motapung “in the name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures”.
Currently, multiple studies have been undertaken by different organisations to assess the impact on the surroundings.
Suryanarayana said that the withdrawal of closure notice will “depend on the response of OIL.” He said, “It all depends on Oil India. If they follow the rules and regulations prescribed by the government, PCBA doesn’t have any problem.”
As per OIL’s statement, cumulative production loss since May 27, amounts to 7627 MT Crude oil and 9.87 MMSCM of natural gas.
As per the statement by PM Narendra Modi on Thursday, the operations at the well were “being executed as per schedule” and the blowout is proposed to be capped on July 7.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines