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

Oil India Limited has said that it will challenge the closure notice in the Guwahati HC

Baghjan fire

As Oil India Limited (OIL) continues to battle the fire at the Baghjan oil well, the Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) has issued a ‘closure notice’ on June 19, to it to shut down all its production and drilling at installations in Upper Assam’s Baghjan oilfield after finding out that the company has allegedly started operations “without obtaining prior consent to establish/consent to operate” from the pollution board, The Indian Express reported. 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 Baghjan oil well had witnessed a blow out on May 27 and on June 9, it caught fire, leading to the deaths of two OIL firefighters. The blowout and fire at the oil well which is located close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri Motapung wetlands has endangered crops, wildlife and around 11,000 people from villages in the area have been set up in relief camps by the district administration to ensure their safety.

According to the report, PCBA officials had issued a show-cause notice to OIL on June 10. Y Suryanarayana, Chairman PCBA told IE, “They had asked us for an extension of time to reply. But we issued the closure notice after one week,” adding that the notice applied to all wells under the Baghjan oilfield.

The notice accessed by News Daily 24 also mentioned that the Baghjan oilfield installation was being operated without any Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and that OIL was required to take adequate measures to prevent spillage of hazardous waste into the water bodies through designated drains and treatment facilities and prevent oil spillage and fire hazards. It also read, “Further, para XVIII of the Environmental Clearance directs the company to install blow-out prevention system to avoid accidents during drilling, but you have failed to do that.”

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.



However, OIL said it will file a Writ Petition before the Guwahati High Court (HC) challenging the closure notice by PCBA, The New Indian Express reported. OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika told PTI, “Oil India will move the Gauhati High Court on Monday for a stay of the closure notice, if we do not receive a favourable reply from the PCBA.” He also said that because the queries were related to operations going back 15 years, they had sought some time on June 18, but the PCBA rejected the request and issued the closure notice the next day.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal also commented on the development at a press conference saying, “Authorities need to be more sensible,” mentioning that he hadn’t read the PCBA notice, Outlook reported. When he was asked about whether the government supported the PCBA’s notice, he said, “A lot of industries right from 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.”

As per Northeast Now, a two-member team from the Directorate of Mines and Safety had grilled OIL’s executive director of production and service Atindra Roychoudhury – said to be overall in-charge of the production, in connection with the oil well blowout.

The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, who had visited the site of the blowout, had formed a fact-finding committee to look into the incident. OIL was also a part of the tripartite meeting with Baghjan Gaon Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha and the Tinsukia District Administration to resolve the blockade issue. Most of its oil wells had been shut due to protests by locals. However, after the meeting, operations resumed between 7 PM and 8 PM on June 21 in producing oil/gas wells under the Baghjan EPS though drilling and workover operations in 5 more areas outside Baghjan which had still been blocked by protestors were yet to resume.

On June 18, PM Narendra Modi had conducted a review meeting which was attended by Dharmendra Pradhan, Sarbananda Sonowal and officials from other Union Ministries of India. In a press release on his official site, it was mentioned that the plan being drawn by Indian and international experts to control the flow of gas from the well was being executed as per preparation and it was proposed to cap the well on July 7, 2020 after taking all necessary precautions.

OIL is currently undertaking an environmental impact assessment and study on air quality and noise level apart from the bioremediation of sludge and seismological study. In an article by Dr. Hiren Gohain on June 10, The Price Of Profit, OIL’s Misadventure Threatens Tinsukia’s Reserve Forests And Wildlife Sanctuaries, Sabrang India had flagged that taking the opportunity of the lockdown, the National Board of Wild Life had issued a clearance related to drilling for petroleum by OIL in a region of Tinsukia which was formally declared to be a ‘tropical rainforest’ ruling out mining and bio-hazardous activities. However, OIL was allowed to carry out oil prospecting in this sensitive region and there was strong presumption that necessary precaution to forestall a blowout were either waived off or slackly applied.

Sabrang India had also reported an interview of Pradip Saikia by TV Channel ‘Asomiya Pratidin’ where Saikia, said to be the first specialist in the field to have discovered gas in the subterranean strata at Baghjan told reporters that the fact that Baghjan contained gas condensate meant it demanded extraordinary precautions in order to prevent fatal mishaps. However, he said that his cautionary remarks were ignored and that the negligence of officials, even at higher levels of management and that the wilful recklessness of the political hierarchy had led to this disaster.

While over 9,000 people are in relief camps, OIL has only promised Rs. 30,000 to 1,610 families each as compensation until now and even that amount hasn’t reached the affected persons yet.



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

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

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

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



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