Assam river fire doused, oil spill sparks environmental concerns
GUWAHATI/ NEW DELHI: The massive fire that broke out on a river in Assam on Sunday due to leakage from an underground oil pipeline has died out, officials said on Monday.
The fire on Burhi Dihing River took place at Naharkatiya in Dibrugarh district, nearly 450 km east of Guwahati, after an Oil India Limited (OIL) pipeline started leaking on Saturday. OIL alleged some miscreants set the leaked oil on fire.
“The fire subsided once the spilled oil had completely burnt by Sunday evening,” said Dibrugarh district additional superintendent of police (head quarter) Padmanabh Baruah.
“Officials from OIL stopped the leakage. Since the fire took place in the middle of the river, it didn’t cause much damage and no one was injured,” he added.
In its official statement on Monday, OIL said, “An incident took place at the Central Tank Farm (CTF) in Oil India Limited (OIL)’s field headquarters in Duliajan. There was sudden closure of remote operated shut off valves and motor operator valves of inlets and outlets of all the Crude Oil Storage Tanks. Consequently, there was pressure build up in the incoming lines to the tanks and it was observed that leaks developed at five points within the periphery of the CTF. Leaks also developed at two points in the incoming crude oil delivery line of one of the field installation near Duliajan.”
It added, “The spilled crude oil…somehow managed to trickle into the nearby Burhi Dihing river. It appears that some miscreants set fire to the oil floating on the river. There has been no casualty and the fire has doused on its own.”
Meanwhile, river and environmental policy experts said the oil spill may have suffocated aquatic life in Burhi Dihing. They also raised concerns that environment ministry’s January 16 notification exempting offshore and onshore oil and gas exploratory drilling from seeking environment clearance could expose more water bodies to such environmental disasters.
“Big fires caused due to burning of hydrocarbons could cause release of green house gas like carbon dioxide and affect the environment,” said Hari Prasad Sarma, professor, department of environmental science, Gauhati University.
“The first thing that happens after such a spillage is the river stretch loses dissolved oxygen and the most aquatic life in that stretch dies... The government must immediately revisit its decision to exempt exploratory drilling from environment impact assessment,” said Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan convenor Manoj Mishra.
“This incident comes as a reminder that our regulation needs to be based on precaution than exemption,” said Centre for Policy Research senior fellow Manju Menon.
“We have sought a first hand information report from Assam Pollution Control Board. It appears to be an accident. We will take decision after receiving details,” said Prashant Gargava, member secretary, Central Pollution Control Board.