No major damage to local ecology: OIL on Baghjan gas and oil leak
No major damage was caused to the local ecology of Upper Assam, where the Baghjan gas well blowout had occurred on May 27, followed by a fire on June 9 , Oil India Limited’s (OIL) senior-most official said on Tuesday.
“We have engaged various independent organisations, including The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI); Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Guwahati and others. No major damage has been caused to ecology. Only some areas need to be restored. But that can happen only by the end of November when the entire blowout has been brought under control,” said Sushil Chandra Mishra, chairman and managing director (CMD), OIL, following the 61st Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the public sector undertaking (PSU).
The Baghjan gas well blowout led to oil and gas leaking into the adjacent Maguri Motapung wetland, the surrounding grasslands and river water. The industrial disaster is understood to have caused extensive damage to biodiversity and unique habitat of the region, according to the scientists and environmental researchers who have visited the site.
Mishra said the blowout occurred during workover, or maintenance operations, when OIL employees noticed uncontrolled flow of gas from the wellhead.
“Different committees have been set up by the Assam government to assess how the incident happened. They have not taken a final view yet. The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) final report on the matter is also awaited,” he added.
He said the well would be killed in a couple of months, but the gas would be diverted elsewhere and utilised. “You have to kill the well. But the production will continue from another well, where the gas will be diverted to,” Mishra added.
Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had concluded in July that the environmental and health impact of the ongoing oil and gas spill due to the blowout in the Baghjan gas field would be long term.
In a 178-page report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in early September, WII had cited that the highest concentration of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a toxic compound, in fish samples from Maguri Motapung wetland, which is located near the gas well blowout site, was found to be between 10 and 100-fold higher than any concentrations reported from India or other parts of the world.
“The impact is significant and will have long-term effect, as many of these pollutants will leach into the ground and contaminate ground water. Long-term restorative efforts are needed for cleaning up these pollutants,” the report has said.
The burnt-out area is mapped, as 65-70 hectares (ha), including crop fields, grasslands and swamps. There was a visible oil spill in the downstream of the well on June 16, it added.
The report had underlined that the wetland and surrounding lowland forests are unique and, as a result, are extremely vulnerable to more oil spill disasters.
“The Brahmaputra and Ganges floodplain landscape is unique in its morphology and fragility, and is responsible for shaping the unique community of plants and animals…the landscape (in Baghjan) is fragile... The dynamic nature of wetland creates mosaics of habitat, which are in perpetual flux. In India as well as the world over, only a handful of Protected Areas (PA) exist, where this system and unique biodiversity is surviving and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) and Kaziranga Orang National Park is on top of that list,” the report had said.
The ministry had accorded environmental clearance to OIL on May 11 for an extension in drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under the DSNP. “We will not touch the national park. The drilling will be done two kilometres (km) outside the park. However, the exploration will be conducted inside with new technology available to us,” Mishra added.