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Two Firemen Found Dead In Assam Gas Blowout Fire

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Two people have been killed in the massive fire that broke out at the gas well of Oil India Ltd at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam on Tuesday, 9 June, due to a blowout that has been continuing since 27 May. Their bodies have been recovered.

Two Oil India staffers have been suspended for alleged negligence in this case, PTI cited officials.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal spoke to PM Narendra Modi. In his tweets, he said, “He (PM) assured of all possible help to resolve the situation and provide relief to victims.”

Following this, the PM’s office also tweeted, saying, “PM assured all possible support from the Centre. The situation is being monitored closely.”

An NDTV report quoted CM as saying the experts believe that they need around 25-28 days to control the situation. According to Oil India, a number of houses, vehicles, small gardens and some forest areas were burnt due to fire, PTI reported.

The Baghjan Oil Well located near the Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam has been blowing out since over two weeks. What started as an oil spill and gas leak due to the failure of pressure control systems, has now turned into a massive fire.

Fire flames continued to erupt from the gas well. A team of State Disaster Response Force and fire engines is present at the spot.

Over 2,000 people living around the field have been moved to relief camps since the blowout began. Most of them have also complained of losing their livestock and agricultural fields, and have staged protests seeking due compensation.

Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi on Tuesday, 9 June, tweeted a picture of the blowout and said, “It’s almost a fortnight the Baghjan oil well in the vicinity of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in upper Assam has been blowing out with fury at a huge cost to flora and fauna, homesteads, agriculture and environment.”

Singapore-Based Firm to Plug the Blowout

On Sunday, 7 June, a three-member expert team from a Singapore-based emergency management firm reached Assam’s Tinsukia district to plug the blowout on the request of State-owned Oil India Limited (OIL).

“There is a drilling mobile rig on the top of the blowout site and there are a number of iron pipes hanging over it, so there’s a high possibility that the wind could have caused a speak in those pipes,” Scroll quoted Tridiv Hazarika, the company’s spokesperson, as saying.

An OIL press release said that after the preliminary discussion and de-briefing session, the experts from Singapore’s ‘Alert Disaster Control’, led by Michael Ernest Allcorn, along with the OIL team, reached Baghjan well site in the Monday afternoon.

“The experts from Alert complimented OIL for all the preparatory works carried out so far and mentioned that based on their wide experience of handling over a thousand blowouts in around 135 countries all over the world under different conditions, they are confident of controlling the well at the earliest with necessary support from OIL,” read the press release.

They also said the testing of other well controlled equipments is in progress at OIL’s drilling yard.

As many as 650 families, comprising 2,500 people, have been shifted to three relief camps after the OIL’s oil well at the Baghjan village started releasing natural gas into the air after a leak on 27 May. OIL will pay Rs 30,000 as immediate relief to each impacted family.

Claiming that no human life has been lost due to release of natural gas, crude oil spillage or condensate during the past several years, OIL denied local media reports that four persons died at nearby Natun Gaon village due to pollution from the blowout.

According to OIL, associated condensates coming out with the gas are water sprayed and collected in a pond near the well site and then transported to Duliajan.

Utmost care has been taken to check spillage of condensate to surrounding areas, it said, adding that a barricade has been created around the well site to prevent the contaminated water runoff to surrounding and nearby water bodies.

Environmentalists & Activists Raise Concerns

Meanwhile, many environmentalists, academics, wildlife experts, writers, social activists and journalists have expressed concern over the environmental consequences of the blowout near the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, a biodiversity hotspot.

In a statement, they said the Baghjan oilfield was located next to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, known for migratory birds and feral horses. The villagers of this area were dependent upon the wetland and the Dangori and Dibru rivers in the Baghjan area for livelihood, they said.

(With inputs from IANS)

Easternlink adds from Guwahati: 
Assam Pradesh Congress has lashed out over the blowout and fire at Baghjan.
Its spokesperson Bobbeeta Sarmah said her party had four clear issues on this blowout which needs to be addressed.
* the failure of the Oil India authorities and sub-contractor John Energy to control the blow at the GGS and prevent the fire , on which 2 firemen have died so far 
* the abject lack of attention to such a serious disaster by the Union Petroleum Ministry and the Centre where the present incumbent minister ‘never loose a chance to shed cosmetic tears for Assam and Northeast’ 
* the lackadaiscal attitude of the state government and ‘ its know-all, solve-all ministers’ who have not pushed the Centre to get the right kind of solutions provider to control the blowout and fire which has caused huge damage to local ecology and livelihoods
* the watering down of eligibility and experience criterion in alloting sub-contracts by Petroleum Ministry to allow crony capitalists close to the ruling dispensation to bag lucrative contracts now stands exposed due to the failure to control the blowout 14 days after it happened.
Ms Sarmah demanded an independent enquiry by ‘appropriate professional institutions’ into the blowout and punishment for those  responsible for dereliction of duty.’

(The story has been published in an arrangement with The Quint.)

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