The Baghjan Well no. 5 operated by Oil India Limited (OIL) witnessed another explosion on July 22, in which as many as three foreign experts were said to be injured. The incident took place when efforts to douse the blowout fire were underway, reported ANI. The experts have been rushed to the hospital, said Tridip Hazarika, spokesperson OIL in a statement.
Assam: An explosion occurred near well no.5 of Oil India in Baghjan, Tinsukia. 3 foreign experts at the site injured. They have been rushed to hospital. The incident occurred when operations to douse the fire at Baghjan oil field was going on. The operation has been halted now. https://t.co/d8mzsmwdPc pic.twitter.com/0azjUzRRrR
— ANI (@ANI) July 22, 2020
It was reported that experts from US and Canada who had joined officials from Singapore’s Alert Disaster Control for well capping operations, were injured in the incident. The fire at the Baghjan well no. 5 has been raging since June 9 following a gas blowout.
Experts had wished to exit operations
The Hindu had reported that a few days prior to this incident, the six experts working to control the fire had conveyed that they wanted to exit the operations. It was said that they were however virtually held captive in torrential rains after locals had blocked all exits from the Baghjan blowout site to demand compensation for one of the residents who had allegedly ended his life due to delay in receiving compensation.
Sukleshwar Neog, a 45-year-old fish farmer had allegedly died by suicide due to mental harassment and reported delays in receiving compensation from authorities. His family and relatives had refused to accept his mortal remains and staged a road blockade to get the administration to meet their demands.
After intense negotiations with the locals, in a written assurance, the Tinsukia District Administration had said that the interim financial compensation to those affected by the Baghjan gas well blowout will be resolved by July 27, The Telegraph reported. A total of 1,751 families have been identified as affected and residents have demanded that the district administration pay Rs. 20 lakh to each family as ‘advance compensation’, reported The Telegraph.
The administration also agreed to provide Neog’s kin Rs. 10 lakh in compensation, a government / OIL job to his widow or next of kin and also agreed to bear the educational expenses of his five daughters.
Issues that the blowout brings to the fore
The Baghjan oil well blowout and the subsequent fire has brought many issues to the fore.
Safety during the pandemic – Two months on, most families are yet to receive compensation from OIL and the administration. However, what is more pressing is that almost 9,000 people are choking in relief camps, especially during the coronavirus pandemic which calls for social distancing.
People in the relief camps have been getting food, but complain of unhygienic conditions there. Speaking to the Logical Indian, an inmate said that there were no clean toilets and bathrooms and that people had been living and sleeping in the same set of clothes for days.
Threat to jobs and livelihood – Residents have been robbed of their jobs and livelihoods and since the fire has not been contained, there is no way to ascertain when people would be able to resume normal lives. Crops and water bodies have been affected and eco-tourism in the area too now stands impacted for a long time to come.
Environmental impact and questionable clearances – The blowout has had a severe impact on the ecology of the region. The Maguri Motapung Beel and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park are under threat due to their close proximity to the blowout site. However, what is most concerning is that even while the fire at the gas blowout site has not been contained, three more proposals by OIL for environmental clearance are up for consideration by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). Down To Earth reported that these proposals for oil and gas exploration were submitted on May 4, June 8 and June 19 respectively. These proposals are likely to be passed as all on and offshore oil and gas exploration projects are being considered as B2, i.e. not requiring public hearing under EIA 2006.
In 2016, OIL extended its drilling and testing to seven new locations at the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, bypassing the rule for public hearings to be undertaken for operations inside protected forests. It had instead asked the environment ministry to take into account the hearings that had taken place on July 8 and August 26, 2011, The Wire had reported.
This year, during the lockdown in April, it reported that OIL got environment clearances for USD 141 billion (INR 10.67 billion) for its proposal to have 16 wells and four production installations at Mechaki, on the other bank of the Brahmaputra. It is also seeking clearance for 179 wells and production installations with an investment of INR 35 billion in North Hapjan, Tinsukia and Dhola districts.
In June, the Assam Pollution Control Board had issued a closure notice to OIL asking it to stop its production and drilling operations at the Baghjan oilfield, alleging that it hadn’t taken prior consent to operate. However, the notice was subsequently withdrawn in pursuance of the affidavit submitted by OIL under some conditions. It was also attributed that Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal had an “indirect role” in resolving the issue out of court. The official said that Sonowal referred to OIL as a “national institution” and the fact that he highlighted OIL’s importance for gas supplies “clearly conveyed he was not in favour of closure”.
Sabrang India had first flagged the crisis on June 10 in an article by Dr. Hiren Gohain, The Price of Profit, OIL’s misadventure threatens Tinsukhia’s reserve forests & wild life sanctuaries which highlighted the Government of India’s sinister ploy to use the lockdown for granting environmental clearances to OIL’s drilling in Assam which endangered human and natural life. The very next day, Sabrang India had also reported of Pradip Saikia, a retired scientist, telling TV Channel Asomiya Pratidin about how political executives ignored the red flags raised in the matter.