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Fire at oil well after gas leak threatens life, livelihood and biodiversity in Assam

Dhaka, 13 June, 2020: 

  • On May 27, a sudden and uncontrolled release of gas occurred from an oil well near Baghjan village in Assam. The situation took a turn on June 9 when the well caught fire.
  • With the site of the well just less than a kilometre from the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and only 500 metres from the wetland Maguri-Motapung Beel, environmentalists and locals fear widespread damage to the area’s ecology.
  • Last month, Oil India Limited received environment clearance from the environment ministry to carry out drilling and testing of hydrocarbons in seven locations under the national park, which was met with an uproar from the locals and environmental activists.
  • Following the blowout, the protests have gained momentum.

The blowout at an oil well near Baghjan village in Assam took a turn yesterday (June 9) with a major fire outbreak at the well. For almost two weeks, the people living in Baghjan and nearby villages have been facing the impacts of the blowout — an uncontrolled release of gas — from an oil-producing well under Baghjan oilfield, operated by the public sector unit Oil India Limited (OIL).

The impact of the fire was particularly severe on the residents of Baghjan village, located around one kilometre from the site, who were already living in a relief camp following the blowout on May 27, amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions as well.

According to one of the residents, Satyajeet Moran, “People of our village now had to evacuate the relief camp set up in the village school and go and seek shelter at Jokaimukh village, which is 12 km away from here. After the blowout, this fire has completely finished our village. Many houses were burnt along with widespread damage to property.”

OIL released a statement saying that the well caught fire while the clearing operation was on at the well site. While the initial statement reported no casualties, on the morning of Wednesday, June 10, bodies of two firefighters, both of whom were employees of OIL were recovered from a pond near the site by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The firefighters have been identified as Tikheswar Gohain and Durlov Gogoi, both of whom were missing since Tuesday evening after the fire broke out.

The fire has also aggravated the environmental impact of the blowout, with the site of the well less than a kilometre from the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) and only 500 metres from the wetland Maguri-Motapung Beel, an Important Bird Area (IBA).

Naturalist Anwaruddin Choudhury came down heavily on OIL, saying that the public sector unit’s lack of expertise and incapability has pushed Maguri Beel to the brink of death. “Today’s fire has completely destroyed Maguri Beel. It is a massive loss. We don’t how many years it will take to revive Maguri. So many birds, reptiles, fishes which were the lifeline of Maguri have vanished. There was a herd of wild buffaloes seen regularly in Maguri. Even they are nowhere to be seen since the last few days. They couldn’t control the well in Baghjan and now if they start drilling in DSNP, it will be all over. They can’t justify mining in DSNP.”

Last month, OIL received environment clearance from the Ministry of Forest and Environment & Climate Change (MoEFCC) to carry out drilling and testing of hydrocarbons in seven locations under Dibru Saikhowa National Park, which locals and environmental activists have been protesting.

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Posted by on Jun 13 2020. Filed under Environmental livelihood, News at Now. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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