Assam gas well: 3 foreign experts sustain burns

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Published on Jul 23, 2020 12:02 AM IST
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GUWAHATI: The efforts to plug a blowout of a natural gas well, which has been on fire since June 9 in Assam’s Tinuskia, suffered a setback on Wednesday afternoon when three foreign experts sustained burn injuries while they were working to control the fire.

The gas well, which is owned by Oil India Limited (OIL) and is located at Baghjan, suffered a blowout (a sudden and uncontrolled release of gas or oil) on May 27 and caught fire two weeks later, killing two firefighters and destroying over a dozen houses in the area.

While some reports said there was a blast near the gas well, OIL denied it. “There was no blast at the site as is being reported. The foreign experts and another person working at the site sustained minor burn injuries while trying to cap the well. They are all out of danger,” said OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika. An official, who spoke to PTI on condition of anonymity, said on-ground reports suggested there was a blast and its scale and nature were being ascertained.

An environmental researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “...A loud sound was heard.”

The experts have been taken to a hospital at Dibrugarh, Oil India Limited’s senior manager, public affairs, Jayanata Bormudoi, said. The three experts injured on Wednesday, Anthony Steven Reynolds, Craig Neil Duncan and Doug Dallas, are from Alert Disaster Control, a Singapore-based firm engaged in plugging the blowout.

A blowout that began in the oilfield on May 27 led to the uncontrollable flow of oil from gas well 5 – causing extensive damage to biodiversity and wildlife the region, according to a preliminary report on the environmental damage caused by the incident. The wildlife in the region includes, among several other species, the endangered hoolock gibbons and the Gangetic dolphins.

According to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the incident took place when the foreign experts hired by OIL were removing a spool from the well head — a task performed before installing a blowout preventer (BOP) to cap the fire. Work at the site was called off for the day after the incident.

“The experts were provided immediate medical attention by doctor at well site and later on, they were taken to burn unit section of Astha Nursing Home at Dibrugarh. They have been released after dressing of the burn injuries. It is expected that operations will resume at Baghjan on Thursday,” OIL said in a statement.

Work on capping the well was at an advanced stage when the incident took place. According to OIL, tasks such as excavation of ramps and cellar have been completed and the equipment to cap the well is ready. “Constant water umbrella, dewatering of ramp/cellar works were being carried out to provide a safe working space for personnel (involved in capping the well),” the OIL statement said.

“The well control operation continues and capping of the well is expected shortly,” OIL tweeted.

Union petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan took stock of the situation and wished speedy recovery to the three foreign experts.

There are 17 oil wells and five gas wells in the Baghjan oil field, Baghjan oil field generates 1,200 kilolitres of crude oil per day and 1.5 to 2 million metric standard cubic metres per day of gas. OIL supplies crude oil to several refineries including Digboi refineries in Assam, it also supplies gas to various power companies and fertiliser companies and 400+ tea estates according to OIL.

A preliminary report on the damage, by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) found that oil had leaked into the principal stream of Lohit river, polluting the water and the adjoining Maguri-Motapung wetland. “The toxic fumes and oil coating have universally affected flora and fauna. The contaminants and oil are continuing to be released and immediate steps are needed to contain this spill over. The toxins released are known to have long-term persistence in soils and sediments,” the report said.

The well had a blowout during a work to extract gas from a new depth. While efforts were underway to control the blowout, the well caught fire and damaged houses located nearby. Nearly 2,000 families were evacuated from the area, with many of them residing in relief camps.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the formation of an expert committee last month to probe the blowout and subsequent fire and assess the damage caused to human life, wildlife and environment.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Utpal is an assistant editor based in Guwahati. He covers all eight states of North-East and was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times .

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