Baghjan blowout: Oil India Limited operated well without mandatory clearances, says NGT panel
The panel has recommended legal action against the public sector company and its officials over the violations that led to the blowout
The Oil India Limited (OIL) was operating the natural gas well at Assam’s Baghjan without required permissions when the uncontrolled escape of oil and gas, or blowout, began there in May, a National Green Tribunal (NGT) panel has said. The panel has recommended legal action against the public sector company and its officials over the violations that led to the blowout.
The well later caught fire in June that continues to rage five months on and has claimed three lives and destroyed nearby houses.
The panel led by retired Gauhati High Court judge Brojendra Prasad Katakey cited the violations and has made the recommendation in its progress report filed to NGT on Tuesday. It said despite Supreme Court orders, OIL did not carry out a biodiversity impact assessment study for the Baghjan well as it is located near the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and biosphere reserve, which is home to 36 mammal species including tiger, endangered Gangetic dolphins, feral horses, and 382 bird species.
The panel said the OIL had also not taken environmental clearance from the Centre before starting drilling operations at Baghjan from November 2006.
It has recommended that directions be issued to Assam’s Pollution Control Board for the action against OIL and its officials.
The panel noted statutory obligations mandate all onshore oil and gas drilling projects to obtain consent under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, and authorisation under Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, and Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules.
“OIL had never procured and/or received any Consent to Establish [CTE]/NOC [no objection certificate] and/or Consent to Operate [CTO] under the aforesaid Acts and Rules the manner prescribed for drilling operation of Well Baghjan-5 in 2006,” the report said. HT is in possession of a copy of the report.
The panel found that the OIL had the mandatory consent under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act only for 2008-09, 2012-13 and 2018-19. It cited records and said the Pollution Control Board issued no consent for 2006-07, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2019-20.
“It was therefore inferred prima facie that on the day of [the] blowout of Well Baghjan-5 on May 27 and explosion on June 9, OIL didn’t have the mandatory consents including the CTE/NOC and/or the CTO under the Water Act, Air Act and/or the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016,” the report said.
The report said the ambient noise levels near the well since the blowout is above the permissible standard. It directed OIL to bring the levels down and ensure treatment of people suffering due to the heightened noise. The panel has recommended Rs 25 lakh compensation to 173 families affected by the blowout and the fire. It has sought Rs 20 lakh to 439 less-affected families.
The panel was set up after Bonani Kakkar, a Kolkata-based activist, and the Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation, an Assam-based NGO, filed separate applications before NGT seeking a probe into the cause and impact of the blowout and the fire. It will submit its final report next month.
A team from Canada arrived at the site on Tuesday to attempt to put out the blaze.
After initial attempts by teams from ONGC and OIL to control the blowout and fire, a team from Singapore-based Alert Disaster Control was brought in to plug the blowout and douse the fire. The team managed to replace the blow out preventer (BOP) on the well head, but efforts to contain the fire by injecting a ‘killing fluid’ failed. The team was able to divert the gas to a ‘flare pit’ nearby but the fire still continues. The Alert Disaster Control team left in October after OIL decided to bring a team from Canada and douse the fire by a technique called snubbing.
“These are interim reports submitted from time to time by the committee to NGT. The final report is yet to be submitted. Once the final report is submitted by the committee, NGT would then issue directives to OIL. We would respond only when such directives are issued,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson, OIL.
The Pollution Control Board and Assam officials didn’t respond to calls.
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