Now, tremors rock villages near Assam’s gas well fire site
After the blowout and fire at Oil India Limited’s (OIL) natural gas well - which claimed lives of two firefighters on Tuesday - local residents in Assam’s Tinsukia district are now experiencing tremors that have resulted in cracks in several homes.
Residents of Natun Rongagora village, located 2.5 km from the Baghjan well, which had a blowout on May 27 and caught fire on June 9, are worried their homes could suffer extensive damages if the tremors continue.
Nearly three dozen houses near the well have been razed because of fire that has been raging since Tuesday. Though the extent of its spread has now been contained to the well, the initial flare burned down trees and also impacted Maguri Motapung wetland, an important bird breeding site.
“We started experiencing tremors from Wednesday, a day after the well caught fire. That night the tremors lasted for nearly 10-12 hours and walls of several houses got cracked,” said Hiren Senapati, president of eco-development committee of Natun Rongagora.
The Baghjan well had a blowout, uncontrolled release of gas and oil condensate, while operations were on to locate a new gas reservoir. Efforts are underway to plug the well, it caught fire on June 9.
“The tremors have been happening intermittently now. Nearly 80% of our villagers are staying in relief camps, the people in their homes are scared to live there because of the tremors, which could be of 5.0 magnitude,” said Senapati.
According to villagers, the local administration visited Natun Rongagora to take stock of the damage. Authorities at OIL have also decided to carry out a study of the induced seismicity (tremors and quakes caused by human activity including oil and gas operations).
“There were some reports of tremors in nearby villages. OIL has contacted North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST) to carry out a study to see if there is any induced seismicity due to the blowout,” read a statement from the state-run company.
The experts from NEIST are trying to ascertain the cause of the tremors.
“We are in constant touch with OIL authorities. We will be sending out a seismology team and equipment to try to evaluate the situation on the ground. From a scientific point of view, we are very keen to look at what these tremors are and analyse its impact,” said G Narahari Sastry, director, North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST).
Besides the tremors, the blowout and subsequent fire has impacted flora and fauna in Maguri Beel, located a few hundred metres away from the well and possibly in the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, around 1 km away from the well.
“A group of local naturalists and some experts from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) went around 700 metres inside Maguri Motapung wetland. We saw many insects and frogs which had died due to the fire,” said Binanda Hatibaruah, a birding tour guide based in Tinsukia.
“Maguri is an important habitat for local birds and a nesting site for migratory birds. Because of the oil-like layer on the wetland, migratory birds won’t be able to stay there. We had noticed nests with eggs on the grasslands, which had been abandoned probably after the blowout,” he added.
On Friday, HT had reported about a survey by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) which concluded that the blowout had polluted Maguri Motapung and the Lohit river.
Meanwhile, efforts are on to control the fire at the well and plug the blowout. Equipment needed for the purpose have been mobilised, a water reservoir dug out and testing of pumps, engines and auxiliary equipment under progress, said a release issued by OIL.
Protests by local groups continued to affect production at 68 oil wells and 13 gas wells operated by OIL in the region. According to the company, the protests resulted in the loss of 638 metric tonne of oil on Thursday.