A massive fire has engulfed a natural-gas producing well of Oil India Limited (OIL) in upper Assam‘s Tinsukia district, and yet the gas that is leaking and fuelling the inferno has remained unplugged for the past fortnight. Beginning this afternoon, smoke from the fire could be seen from 10 km away. Locals say the fire has spread to villages adjacent to the oil well.
The Sarbananda Sonowal government requested for help from the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army, which are now assisting in the firefighting operations. The IAF has sent three fire tenders. The army has reached the area and is on stand-by. Paramilitary forces have cordoned off the area.
The fire has not been brought under control, sources say while Oil India officially says that the oil well caught fire during the clearing operations at the site. In its statement, Oil India said further that there were violent protests around the site of the leak, hampering the operations. Now, the PSU says, Oil India and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) teams have been evacuated.
Sources said ‘well killing’ experts flown in yesterday from Singapore would take about a month to completely cap the well.
Chief Minister Sonowal spoke to Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan earlier today. He sent Assam’s Minister for Industries Chandramohan Patowary to the area to monitor the situation.
Although the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed in the area since the time the gas leaked and top officials of Assam are reviewing the situation, the fire remains uncontrollable.
About 500 km from Guwahati, the oil well at Baghjan Tinsukia had a blowout on 27 May. The well has been leaking gas for the past 14 days, damaging the region’s wetlands and biodiversity.
Images on social media show gas condensate deposits in the Maguri Beel wetland, carcasses of endangered Gangetic dolphins and other aquatic life floating in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, barely three kilometres from the oil field.
The fire, smoke and soot have contaminated paddy fields, ponds and wetlands in the adjoining villages. The threat is growing with every passing day. Several small tea growers in the area have complained about layers of gas condensates in their tea gardens.
At least 6,000 people living in a 1.5-km radius of the natural gas producing well have been evacuated and placed in relief camps. Oil India Limited has also announced financial relief of Rs 30,000 to each to the affected families.