Long-lasting toxicity for humans, animals and birds at Baghjan oil spill region: Wildlife Institute
The environmental and health impact in the ongoing oil and gas spill due to a blowout in Upper Assam’s Baghjan gasfield will be a long-drawn affair, according to the Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) 178-page report submitted recently to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
WII has said that the highest concentration of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a toxic compound, in fish samples from Maguri Motapung wetland, which is located near the blowout site, was found to be 10-to 100-fold higher than any concentrations reported from India or other parts of the world.
“The impact is significant and will have long-term effects, as many of these pollutants will leach into the ground and contaminate groundwater. 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, which include crop fields, grasslands, and swamps.
There was a visible oil spill -- oil and sediment -- on June 16 in the downstream of the well, it has said.
The Gangetic Dolphin encounters, which were earlier found abundantly in the Brahmaputra tributaries such as Lohit and Dibru and also in Maguri Motapung wetland, have decreased significantly after the blowout.
A dolphin was found dead from poisoning from the oil spill.
Perhaps, due to the oil spill and intense noise from the blowout, bird species richness has seen an overwhelming decline in grasslands and wetland by 59% and 85%, respectively, the report has said.
Fish species have also declined in wetland and river tributaries, where dissolved oxygen level has fallen due to the oil spill.
The loud noise due to the explosion can be heard in a radius of 12 kilometres and beyond, making the surroundings extremely unhealthy for humans, animals, and birds.
The report has underlined that the wetland and surrounding lowland forests are unique and as a result, extremely vulnerable to more oil spill disasters.
The Brahmaputra and the Gangetic 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 and is engineered by flooding. The dynamic nature of wetland creates mosaics of habitat which is in perpetual flux.
In India as well as the world over, there are only a handful of Protected Areas (PAs), where this unique biodiversity is surviving, and among them, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) and Kaziranga Orang National Park top the list, the report has stated and added that oil wells in and around DSNP would be detrimental to the unique ecosystem.
The landscape is also extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and occasionally massive tremors.
The expert appraisal committee of the MoEFCC in meetings held between 30 and January 1 had recommended environmental clearance for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations inside and under the DSNP.
“’The potential of oil blowout and oil spill-like disaster is a reality. Such oil wells in the vicinity of DSNP and important bird area complex (DSNP, Bherjan Wildlife Sanctuary, Padumani Wildlife Sanctuary, and Borajan Wildlife Sanctuary, Important Bird Areas (IBA) Poba Reserve Forest, Kobo chapori, Amarpur chapori and Maguri and Motapung, Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary) will be detrimental to the conservation value of this unique ecosystem,” the report has said while suggesting that the cumulative impact of existing gas wells would need to be assessed.
The study, led by WII scientist Qamar Qureshi, has also recommended that the government initiates a long term study to monitor the long-term impact on the ecology of Maguri-Motapung wetland and DSNP as well as on the health and socio-economic conditions of local communities around the affected areas. Since the restoration of the area will be a long-term process, an appropriate committee should be formed to monitor and guide the process.
“WII has submitted its voluminous report. We are trying to get more details and may go back to WII for it. We are sending all the findings to the Assam government to begin mitigation and restoration work. I understand that the situation is still grim there,” said Soumitra Dasgupta, additional director general (wildlife), MoEFCC.
“We will need time to respond to WII’s findings. Since it is a technical report, we will also have to get it reviewed by our independent experts. Our focus is presently on controlling the well and resolving the blowout,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson, Oil India Limited (OIL).
The gas well blowout took place on May 27 and the blaze followed on June 9, but the plugging exercise is yet to be over after two months.