Huge fire breaks out at India gas well blowout, Fire has reportedly spread to homes near well that has been leaking ‘uncontrollably’ for two weeks by Agence France-Presse, June 10, 2020, The Guardian
A massive fire has broken out at an oil field in north-eastern India, after gas that had been leaking for two weeks ignited, sending plumes of smoke and flames into the sky, and reportedly setting fire to nearby homes.
Five deaths in the area are being investigated for potential links to the gas well, which has been leaking “uncontrollably” for two weeks, according to Oil India, the state-owned company managing the oil field.
The gas well at the oil field, in Baghjan in the Tinsukia district of Assam state, started leaking in late May, the company said.
Tuesday’s explosion sent bright orange flames and huge, black plumes of smoke high into the sky, visible 10km (six miles) from the oil field.
“While the clearing operations were on at the well site, the well caught fire,” Oil India said in a statement, adding that a firefighter suffered “minor injuries”. About 200 engineers and workers – including a team of experts who arrived from Singapore on Monday – are trying to stem the leak within four weeks, the company said.
People living in neighbouring villages fled in fear, and said five of their homes had caught fire. “The situation is very bad. It is spreading. I knew it was going to happen,” local environmentalist Niranta Gohain said.
The company called for help from the army after local residents allegedly attacked its vehicles after Tuesday’s explosion, spokesman Tridiv Hazarika said.
Water has been pumped to the well over the past two weeks to prevent the gas catching fire.
Assam’s chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, said firefighters, police and the army were being sent to the site, which is 500km east of Guwahati, the state’s biggest city.
Environmentalists are increasingly worried about the impact of the gas leak.
The well was producing 100,000 standard cubic metres per day (SCMD) of gas from a depth of 3,870 metres before the blowout in May, according to Oil India.
Just a kilometre from the field is Maguri-Motapung wetlands, an ecotourism site. State-owned sanctuary Dibru Saikhowa national park – renowned for migratory birds – is about 2.5km away.
Authorities had established an exclusion zone of 1.5km and about 2,500 people had been evacuated from their homes.
Officials on Monday ordered an inquiry into the deaths of five people from the areas surrounding the field, although the district administration said a preliminary investigation suggested they died of natural causes.
Assam oil well still leaking gas one week after blowout, About 2,500 people evacuated, amid fears that leaking oil and gas has killed river dolphins and birds by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, June 2, 2020, The Guardian
An oil well in the Indian state of Assam is still leaking gas “uncontrollably” after a blowout a week ago that it is feared has killed endangered river dolphins and birds and forced 2,500 people to evacuate their homes.
For days authorities have failed to plug the leak from the well in the village of Baghjan after the incident on 27 May. The blowout – an uncontrolled release of oil and gas due to the failure of pressure control systems – sent a fountain of crude oil into the air, “unleashing a hell”, according to local accounts.
A continuous spray of cold water is being used to cool the leaking natural gas to prevent it igniting and causing an explosion.
As the impact spread, the National Disaster Response Force was called in and about 2,500 people have been taken to relief camps.
According to Oil India Limited (OIL), which operates the well, gas was still flowing uncontrollably from the leak on Tuesday. The company has called in foreign experts in an attempt to get the leak under control, but locals and environmental activists say that untold damage has already been done to the rare biodiversity of the area, as well as to essential local agriculture.
Baghjan village, where the rig is located, sits next to the protected Dibru Saikhowa national park and Maguri Beel wetlands, which is home to dozens of species of migratory birds, rare wildlife and aquatic species. However, the rivers running into the wetlands are said to have become contaminated from the explosion, with the residue from the oil spill sitting on the surface of the water, leading to the poisoning and suffocation of aquatic species.
At least one critically endangered Gangetic river dolphin has been found dead in the nearby river, its outer skin scaly and peeling, and locals fear there are other carcasses in less accessible locations. Several endangered birds and fish have also been found dead, and a sticky layer of oil has formed on the leaves of the trees in the national park.
“The company [OIL] has failed in every aspect,” said Niranta Gohain, an environmental activist from the area. Gohain accused the company of safety lapses and said the blowout had “erased a humbly balanced rural economy”.
There has also been a high human cost. Locals have complained of headaches, burning eyes and nasal passages and respiratory problems since the rig blowout. Many families in the surrounding area also rely on fishing in the rivers, now feared contaminated, for their food and livelihoods, and livestock such as chickens have already been found dead.
The Baghjan gas leak is the latest in a series of industrial disasters in India. Less than a month ago a factory in Andhra Pradesh state exploded, leaking toxic gas into the air and killing 12 people. India’s top environmental court this week blamed “gross human failure” and lack of basic safety norms for the incident.
Environmentalists said the oil rig explosion also exposed the environmental risk posed by allowing rigs to operate so close to protected areas of biodiversity. Just last month, OIL were given permission to drill in seven locations in Dibru Saikhowa national park.
Following an inspection of the blowout site on Sunday, OIL’s chairman and managing director Sushil Chandra Mishra told reporters: “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.”
A statement from OIL said the company was “awaiting the observations and findings of the district administration, forest department, pollution control board so that all necessary steps can be taken”.