Baghjan blaze: Closure of wells may lead to more blowouts, warns OIL

File photo of Army soldiers lending their hand at the Baghjan oil blowout and fire site in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district.

File photo of Army soldiers lending their hand at the Baghjan oil blowout and fire site in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Exploration major says PCB order technically not feasible.

Oil India Limited (OIL) has said the June 19 order from the Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) to shut down all crude oil and gas wells in the Baghjan area may lead to more blowouts and damage the ecology beyond repair.

The exploration major also said the order was irrational since they had replied to the PCBA show-cause notice on the very day the closure order was served.

OIL has 22 wells in the Baghjan oilfield around Well Number 5 that burst into flames on June 9 after a blowout — uncontrolled escape of crude oil or natural gas at great speed — on May 27. Operations to cap the blaze over the wellhead and capping the blowout are still continuing.

Two OIL fire-fighters have lost their lives in the operation on June 9. Environmental activists have said oil condensates have affected the flora, fauna and wetlands around the affected well. The blowout well is close to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which is within the eco-sensitive zone of the ecologically fragile Dibru-Saikhowa Natural Park.

Seeks data

“We received the show-cause notice from the PCBA member-secretary on June 11 seeking a reply and data going back to 15 years. We replied seeking a week’s time as these data needed to be collated and most officials were engaged in the Baghjan operation,” OIL’s spokesperson Tridip Hazarika said.

“On June 17, our executive director handling safety and environment called up PCBA chairperson Y. Suryanarayana seeking two more days. He sought a mail, which we gave but on June 18 evening he said there will be no extension. We were ready with our reply anyway and mailed it before he ordered us to shut down operations in the Baghjan area,” he added.

“We replied to their letter in the morning via email and sent the closure order in the evening. But the question here is that they are operating without CTO (consent to operate),” Mr. Suryanarayana told The Hindu on Sunday.

Environmentalists have questioned the PCBA’s “waking up from slumber” when the OIL has been function in the area for almost two decades. The chairperson, however, said the data sought pertains to the 2019-2020 fiscal.

“We have requested PCBA to revoke the closure order. If nothing comes by Monday morning, our legal team will approach the Gauhati High Court for legal intervention,” Mr. Hazarika said.

Under pressure

OIL officials said that from the closure order it was evident that PCBA was not aware of how the oil industry functions.

“Wells cannot be shut overnight because they are not like water taps that be closed whenever one wants to. Closure is a complicated process that can take months. Besides, shutting down all the wells will worsen the situation at the blowout well because of geological factors,” a senior executive explained.

Sudden shutdown, exploration experts said, could lead to “blowout after blowout” of the other wells as closure valves cannot withstand the upward pressure from the crude oil or natural gas for long. It will lead to a disaster that the area might not recover from, they said.

Meanwhile, local groups lifted their blockades of all oil and gas wells in the Baghjan area from Saturday evening allowing OIL to resume operations there. But drilling and associated operations in five more areas outside Baghjan remained disrupted, resulting in a cumulative lost of 8,013 metric tonnes of crude oil and 10.24 million metric standard cubic metres of natural gas since May 27.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 11:27:36 AM |

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