OIL may bring in U.S. experts to contain gas well blowout in Assam

Around 600 villagers have been moved to two relief camps set up 1 km away from the drilling site

Published - June 01, 2020 03:22 am IST - GUWAHATI

Tinsukia: Fire tenders at Baghjan Oil Field after an explosion, in Tinsukia, Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Tinsukia: Fire tenders at Baghjan Oil Field after an explosion, in Tinsukia, Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Foreign experts may be flown in to contain the blowout at a natural gas-producing well of Oil India Limited (OIL) near a national park in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district.

This is the second such blowout, or uncontrolled escape of gas, since 2005, when global fire-fighting experts had to be flown in to control a blaze at an abandoned oil well in Dibrugarh district’s Dikom.

The 2005 blowout took about 45 days to control.

The blowout at the exploration major’s Baghjan well happened at 10:24 a.m. on May 27.

“We hope to bring the situation under control by Thursday and would be issuing a public statement every morning from Monday on the progress during the past 24 hours,” an OIL spokesperson said from the company’s headquarters in Dibrugarh district’s Duliajan.

He added that OIL had been parallelly consulting three U.S. expert groups for inputs on capping the well from where gas has not stopped blowing out and falling as condensate in the areas around.

“We have started the process of bringing the American experts by chartered flight just in case our interventions are not enough,” the spokesperson added.

‘Focus on relief’

OIL’s chairman and managing director Sushil Chandra Mishra on Sunday inspected the blowout site. “Our focus is on providing relief to the people affected by the accident at the time of COVID-19 while trying to bring the operations back to normal,” he told mediapersons.

He admitted that the damage-control exercise was taking longer than initially expected as it was not possible for any company to have certain kinds of experts.

According to the Tinsukia district authorities, there are about half a dozen villages within a 1.5 km radius of the blowout spot, which adjoins the Baghjan village. The next nearest villages are Notun Rongagora and Barekuri.

These villages have about 600 families with a total of more than 2,000 people. Some 700 of them have been evacuated to three relief camps more than 1km.

“While all the villagers are being provided food at the relief camps, we are providing the camp inmates with other necessary items,” the spokesperson said.

Environment activists in Tinsukia district said the condensates have become a threat for the flora and fauna in the area, particularly the Maguri-Motapung wetland immediately to the south of the well. The Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, a biodiversity hotspot, is about 2 km away.

“As is usual for oil and gas wells that go wrong, some damage has been done to the areas around the Baghjan well. But whether a Gangetic river dolphin and other animals died because of it, as is being claimed, can be ascertained only after a forensic test,” said Sanjay Das, a conservationist who runs a tourism business in the area.

OIL officials said a clean-up operation would be undertaken in the area but only after the blowout is checked.

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