Assam natural gas well continues to blaze, 3 months since blowout
The operation to ‘kill’ the well had to be suspended on August 19 following rupture of a casing valve. The setback forced the experts to plug technical glitches before making another attempt to douse the fire
It’s been three months since a natural gas well operated by Oil India Limited (OIL) at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam had a blowout and caught fire two weeks later. But efforts to douse the flame have failed till date.
On August 17, foreign experts engaged by OIL were able to cap the well by placing a blow out preventer (BOP) stack over the well head. But the problem surfaced two days later when attempts were made to douse the fire by ‘killing the well’.
To kill a well, a “kill fluid”, sludge-like specially prepared mud, is injected into the well slowly to push the gas from it back to the reservoir. The well at Baghjan is around 3.5 km deep and the operation to douse the fire was expected to be over within the next 36 hours.
But the operation had to be suspended on August 19 following rupture of a casing valve. The setback has forced the experts to plug all technical glitches before making another attempt to douse the fire.
“Work is underway at the well site and we are looking at another killing attempt in the next few days. Before that, the experts are doing some additional cementing work to strengthen the annulus (gaps between casing pipes),” said OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika on Thursday.
“We have completed nearly 70% of that work. We should be able to make another attempt at killing the well in another 2-3 days. If things go as per plans, the entire operation could be over in one week,” he added.
With the first attempt to douse the fire failing, Hazarika said that OIL is also looking at other more time consuming options like cutting the entire damaged portion of the casing pipes and replacing them with new ones or to dig up a relief well, which is used to intercept and kill a blowout well.
“Since we have already placed the BOP, we are also considering producing gas from the well partially. If we are able to do that, then the killing operation will be slightly easier because the pressure of the gas will be reduced,” he said.
The blowout _ uncontrolled release of gas or oil _ during an operation to locate a new gas reservoir happened on May 27. On June 9, the well caught fire, killing two firefighters, destroyed over a dozen nearby houses and displaced thousands of residents from nearby areas.
Initially, OIL had said it would take a month to cap the well and douse the fire. Later, the deadline was extended to July 7. But floods and technical issues kept adding to the delay while thousands of residents continue to remain affected.
At present, two relief camps are in operation where around 3,600 persons from areas close to the well are taking shelter. According to OIL, around 2,700 families have been surveyed till date for compensation.
“The loud noise from the well, which started on May 27, still continues to affect residents. Mild vibrations are occurring once in a while. Till date, no one from OIL has approached us to take stock of damages suffered due to the blowout and fire,” said Hiren Senapoti, a resident of Natun Rongagora village.
Since the Baghjan well is located close to Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the ecologically sensitive Maguri Motapung Wetland, there were fears of environmental damage to the area. Studies by different agencies had been commissioned to measure extent of damage.
In June, National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered formation of an expert committee to probe the blowout and subsequent fire and assess the damage caused to human life, wildlife and environment because of it.
“Maguri Motapung Wetland is an important roosting site for many migratory birds. We were expecting the blowout to be capped and the fire doused within a month, but with the delay, it might affect their arrival,” said Deborshee Gogoi, assistant professor at Digboi College and wildlife cartoonist and bird enthusiast.
“The migratory birds start arriving at Maguri Motapung from September. But this year, they might not come due to the noise from the blowout and also because of damage to the wetland as a result of oil condensate getting mixed with in the water bodies of the area,” he added.
According to OIL estimates, around 1 lakh standard cubic meter (SCM) of gas has got released daily from the well __ that’s nearly 90 lakh SCM of gas since the blowout. The Baghjan incident has affected production in other nearby oil and gas wells leading to losses of around ₹40 cr.