Oil Drilling Continues Despite Burning Well In Assam

by GoNews Desk 10 months ago Views 2348

Oil Drilling Continues Despite Burning Well In Ass
By - Chandrani Sinha/

Government’s oil company gets green light to continue drilling in biodiversity hotspots of north-eastern India, even as disastrous fire from a blown-out well continues to rage.

An oil well blew out in the north-east Indian state of Assam on May 27, spewing crude and gas over villages, a wetland and a protected forest. Then the whole thing caught fire, which is still burning two weeks later. The Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) ordered well-owner Oil India Limited (OIL) to close down production and drilling on June 19, only to withdraw the order on June 22.

Local residents – from among 2,500 people evacuated since the initial blowout – are protesting the drilling operations. The disaster has caused huge damage in the Dibru Saikhowa national park and the Maguri-Motapung wetland, killing birds and endangered wildlife. Houses, farms, trees and water are covered with a film of oil, right next to the place where three rivers join to form the transboundary Brahmaputra river. The whole area is experiencing repeated seismic tremors.

After the spewing well in Baghjan village caught fire on June 9, residents started wondering when they can go home. They currently are forced to huddle in relief centres too overcrowded to maintain distance norms that are supposedly mandatory during the Covid-10 pandemic.

Different priorities

Dharmendra Pradhan, India’s minister for petroleum and natural gas, accompanied Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to the area on June 14. Pradhan promised “adequate” compensation, Sonowal announced an inquiry and promised to set up a civil hospital and a veterinary hospital in the area. Neither said anything about halting oil drilling, the main demand of the residents.

Instead, on June 22, Indian government-owned OIL stated that its operations had been disrupted in 22 oil wells and one gas well by protests: “Cumulative production loss since May 27 due to bandhs (strikes) and blockades 8,162 million tonnes of crude oil, 10.4 million metric standard cubic metres of natural gas.” The blockades are being carried out by local residents, who want OIL to stop drilling in the area.

According to an OIL spokesperson, since 2003 they have drilled 23 wells at Baghjan.

In 2016, OIL extended its drilling and testing to seven new locations inside Dibru-Saikhowa national park. It bypassed the rule that requires public hearings for such operations inside protected forests by asking India’s environment ministry to take into account hearings that had occurred on July 8 and August 26, 2011.

This April, OIL received environment clearance for its INR 10.67 billion (USD 141 million) proposal to have 16 wells and four production installations at Mechaki, on the other bank of the Brahmaputra. It was among the many clearances given by India’s environment ministry during the India-wide lockdown forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also plans 179 wells and production installations with an investment of INR 35 billion (USD 462.75 million) in nearby North Hapjan, Tinsukia and Dhola and has sought clearance from the environment ministry.

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