Assam's Baghjan Mishap
Eastern Panorama|July 2020
The blowout incident at the Baghjan oilfield of the Oil India Limited (LTD) is saddening. This can well be considered as one of the worst industrial disasters which the country has witnessed in the recent times. In other words, this is the second such major leaking incident since 2005 – let alone several other similar incidents of oil and gas spill in the recent past.
Dwaipayan Dasgupta

Notably, the Baghjan gas leak happening is literally a two-part story, but, depressingly, both incidents have been a bitter pill to swallow for the people, especially those who live in villages within two kms radius of the uncontrollable gas outflow site. To argue precisely, both the incidents have almost irreversibly damaged a lot of still-existing precious resources --cropland, water-bodies, a national park et al in its vicinity but have also taken heavy toll on the villagers’ livelihoods.

It needs to be mentioned here that the spark for the brewing crisis at the Baghjan gas and oil well in Tinsukia district was the sudden major up-rush occurring there on May 27. Since then, natural gas has been uncontrollably spewing from a rig of the Oil India Limited at the site triggering fear and panic amongst the local inhabitants. The gas leak continued unabated for a little less than a fortnight before till the well finally caught fire on June 9. But it is unfortunate that during the prolonged period the unbridled release of natural gas could not be put at check maybe because the country’s petroleum industry lacks such an expertise to cap the well head notwithstanding its having over a hundred years of history of oil exploration, or because of the alleged failure of a private drilling firm which was reportedly engaged in exploration but did not have a much-needed quick disaster management and mitigation mechanism in place to face up to any emergency situation. A recent report suggested that the same company was even advised by a technical team of the OIL after totally cementing a new sand reservoir from which gas was to be produced on May 26, a day before the oil well went into flames, not to work on the cemented structure before 48 hours. But the company instead, allegedly started working on that structure on May 27 to expedite the job, leading to the gasleak.

The crisis reveals that the OIL was reportedly undertaking workout operations at Baghjan on May 27 when around 10.30 am, the blowout took place in its gas well resulting in the flow of gas. The well started spewing gas uncontrollably since then. A conscious segment of the Baghjan population was of the opinion that the disaster had happened due to the alleged procrastination in the routine check and maintenance of the gas rig by the officials and staff of the outsourcing firm, John Energy Pvt. Limited. The group was confident that had they at the very beginning put in serious efforts to cap the well, it could have possibly been avoided. Their allegations against them were genuine and well manifested in the suspension of dereliction of duty as also in the issuance of show-cause notice against the drilling company.

If the available media reports are anything to go by, one can say for certain that the first major blowout at Baghjan of May 27 was much too devastating.

The uncontrolled release of natural gas had affected many families, and caused irreparable damage to the adjoining Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, located about only 900 metres from the gas well.

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