Massive fire at gas well near Assam sanctuary puts environmental clearance norms under scanner

– globalbihari bureau

Guwahati: A massive fire erupted at  a natural-gas producing well – Baghjan-5 – of Oil India Limited (OIL) at Baghjan in Tinsukia District on Tuesday afternoon. Eyewitness reports suggest the fire may spread to adjoining areas if not contained and the Dibru-Saikhowa national park is also under threat.

An OIL spokesperson said the well caught fire when the clearing operations were on at the well site. “There is no casualty reported except minor injury to a fireman from ONGCL (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited). Fire tenders are at the site controlling the spread of fire. There are violent protests around the well site. Once the situation is normal, the experts will move to the site,” the spokesperson said.

A release from OIL further stated that the current situation would be brought under control “by the experts”.

It may be mentioned that following blowout in the gas well on May 27, gas had been leaking from the well for the last 14 days. A press handout of OIL, on June 5 had stated that the well was flowing gas “uncontrollably” even as pumping of water to the well through the casing valve was in progress to minimize chances of fire.  It had further stated that OIL fire service and with mutual aids were stationed 24×7 at site since 27 -05- 2020 for continuously water jacketing the well to avert any eventuality.

Today after the fire, as there were violent protests around the well site, OIL officials made a request to Assam’s Chief Secretary and Tinsukia district administration for maintaining law and order “so that the experts are allowed to enter the site and start the well control operations”.

“Post the incident, emergency meetings are underway with ALERT team (M/s Alert Disaster Control — a Singapore-based firm had visited the well site on June 8 to assess the available facilities for well control operation and for preparation of the plan of action). They have expressed that it is now a safe environment for working and are confident that the situation can be controlled and the well can be capped safely,” an OIL spokesperson stated. He added: “The situation demands arrangement of large quantities of water, installation of high discharge pumps and removal of debris… Transfer of well killing equipment to the site is in progress…Arrangement for creting water umbrella is in progress. Digging of water reservoir and preparation of placement of high capacity water pumps are in progress…Environmental Impact Assessment is in progress…”

The company stated that all the operations “as per ALERT will take about 4 weeks”. It though added that “efforts will be made to reduce this time frame as much as possible”.

It may be mentioned that there was already a widespread protest in the state over the  environment clearances given for hydrocarbon drilling to Oil India Limited at seven locations under the Dibru Saikhowa National Park earlier this year. OIL had then claimed in a press release that its operations “will have no impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park Area. OIL will be able to accomplish this task of exploring hydrocarbon reserves under the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park by use of the Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) technology”.

Today’s fire has put a question mark on such claims and the Forest and Environment ministry’s criteria for granting such environmental clearances.

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1 Comment

  1. The life on Earth can sustain only if CO2 & temp levels are brought down by Carbon Sinks – Forests & oceans. If humans have to service in present 6 th Extinction on Earth we cannot risk even a single tree in forest. This treasure belongs to all life forms. MOFE has no right to put forests at risk of fire. People should file a PIL against OIL & MOFE as well as protest to withdraw environmental clearance & stop drilling at 7 sites around Dibru-Saikhowa National Park urgently.

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