Assam Pollution Control Board withdraws closure notice served to Oil India Limited

The notice has been withdrawn subject to certain conditions which have to be met within a time-frame given by the PCBA


On Monday evening, the Pollution Control Board, Assam, withdrew the ‘closure notice’ it served to Oil India Limited (OIL) to ‘close down’ all production and drilling operations in the Baghjan oilfield area after a blowout and subsequent fire adversely affected lives, livelihoods and the ecology, The Telegraph reported.

The letter by the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) read that the closure notice was withdrawn in pursuance of the affidavit submitted by OIL under some conditions. OIL would have to submit a detailed time-bound Environment Management Plan (EMP) within 15 days of issue for environmental mitigation and extinguishing the fire at the oil well. It would also have to apply for Consent to Operate (CTO) under Section 25 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 separately for each and every drilling, production and other installations along with the EMP within a month.

The Pollution Control Board, Assam has also asked OIL to submit the details of hazardous waste generated, disposed and treatment facilities as per the Hazardous & Other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement Rules), 2016 and apply for authorization under E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016. Apart from this it has also asked OIL to submit the return as per Batteries (management & Handling) Rules, 2001 framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 within July 31, 2020.



A senior official told The Telegraph that the notice was withdrawn after talks between OIL and PCBA chairman Y Suryanarayana. He told TT, “Our CMD, Sushil Chandra Mishra, spoke to the PCBA Chairman, following which we submitted everything they sought from us. We also gave an undertaking of what we have done or are doing to comply with PCBA regulations.”

The official also told TT that closing down all operations would have not only complicated the capping operations but also affected the “productivity and safety” of other oil and gas wells. 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”. On Monday, June 22nd, he had said that “authorities need to be more sensible” mentioning that “a lot of industries right from the thermal power plant in Namrup, Assam Gas Company, Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Limited and all tea gardens in upper Assam are completely dependent on the OIL.”

In its closure notice issued on June 19, 2020, PCBA had alleged that OIL had started operations “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate” from the pollution board. As per the notice, the operations at the Baghjan oilfield are a serious violation of the Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The notice also stated that the production and drilling operations had been undertaken without proper safety and precautionary measures and that the company wasn’t submitting the Annual Report regularly under Section 9 of the Hazardous and Other Waste Management & Transboundary Movement Rules, 2016 which was a serious violation and liable to be punished under law in force.

It had also mentioned that Oil was destroying to aquatic life of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung wetland of endangered species in the name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures.



Evidence of flouting norms

OIL has 22 producing wells – 18 oil wells and 4 gas wells at Baghjan Oil Field in Assam’s Tinsukia district. These include BGN 5 well which is under fire since June 9, two weeks after blowout occurred on May 27, 2020.

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, The Third Pole 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.

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.

While OIL is currently undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment studies, bioremediation and seismological studies, besides preparation for capping the oil well. It also said that protests against the company outside Baghjan continued in a few areas and drilling and workover operations at 6 locations continued to be obstructed. The Bailey bridge to contain the fire had also been completed by the Indian Army.



OIL has completed a damage assessment survey to compensate 369 families from the Doomdooma and Tinsuka circle. Currently around 9,000 people are in relief camps, out of which Oil has promised to compensate 1,610 families by providing them with Rs. 30,000 each. While this compensation is not only not enough to recover the loss of livelihood, it is yet unclear whether the relief has actually reached the affected families yet.


Pollution Control Board Assam issues closure notice to Oil India Limited over Baghjan fire

Baghjan oil well continues to spew fire; affected families yet to receive compensation

Assam: Fourteen days later massive fire breaks out at oil well in Baghjan oilfield

More on Assam’s Ecological Disaster, retd scientist Saikia speaks of Govt ignoring scientific advice against drilling at Tinsukhia

High-level probe into OIL’s Baghjan well tragedy: CM Sonowal




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