Preliminary report on oil well blowout and explosion at an OIL well in Baghjan, Tinsukia, Assam, 24/07/2020
Preliminary report of the Committee of Experts constituted by the National Green Tribunal headed by Justice Brojendra Prasad Katakey, former judge Guwahati High Court submitted on July 24, 2020.
The constitution of the Committee was in response to the oil well blowout on May 27, 2020 and subsequent explosion on June 9, 2020 at an Oil India Limited (OIL) well in Baghjan, district Tinsukia, Assam. The resultant oil spill affected the surrounding landscape. The Committee was to look into the allegations of failure and negligence on the part of authorities including OIL in preventing blowout and mitigating its impact.
The report mentioned that oil spillage had severely affected a radius of 6 kms from the Baghjan Oil Well No. 5. Within the 2 km radius, all the phytoplankton and zooplankton were directly affected while there were coatings of oil film on plant life, water bodies, agricultural fields, gardens and manmade structures. The explosion on June 9, 2020 and the subsequent fire which broke out has led to immense damage to the local population and their homes, apart from small tea gardens which were completely burnt down.
Report indicated that the grasslands on the south-western side and the western side have been impacted by the fire and during the field survey conducted by the experts, it was observed that bird density and diversity within a 1km radius had reduced substantially. The sound that has been emanating from the well since the explosion can be heard even from a distance of 12 kms from the site of the explosion. Several representations received from the local communities in and around the site of incident have revealed complaints of difficulty in breathing and the ambient air being laden within toxic and heavy fumes. Even scientific teams from institutions such as the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), who have visited the site, had reported such experiences.
The WII has measured the Nitrogen, Sulphur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide and HCOH (formaldehyde) in the environment surrounding the site of incident. NO2 has shown 16 % increase on May 27. It has been widely reported in the representations available that several residents of villages close to the site of incident who have not been accommodated in the relief camps for various reasons were suffering from breathing difficulties.
Local residents, especially of villages located close to the site of incident have been suffering because of contamination of the ground water. It has been stated before the Committee, that tube-wells used by villagers were emanating foul smelling water which makes it unusable.
Several villages which are predominantly dependent on fishing from the nearby water bodies, such as the Maguri-Motapung wetland have been deprived of their livelihood because of the condensate on the water surface which has caused widespread damage to the aquatic ecosystem and also contaminated the water. In the opinion of the Institute, the Maguri-Motapung wetland was the worst affected with large scale death of aquatic fauna. High mortality has been reported among fishes, insects, herpetofauna and insects including the decline of Gangetic River Dolphin Population in the area. A mortality among the Gangetic Dolphin population due to oil poisoning in the area has also been reported. It has been found that encounter rate of Gangetic River Dolphin in the area has decreased by 89% post of the oil blowout.
The tests and evaluations carried out by the WII conclude that high levels of carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) pollutants have been released into the ecosystem, and will remain in the system for a long time. The PAH pollutants which have been found in the ecosystem surrounding the site of incident will eventually percolate into the ground and even contaminate the ground water.
Reasons for well Baghjan-5 blowout and explosion:
Based on the preliminary assessment, till date, the Committee is of the unanimous opinion that the Well Baghjan-5 blowout and explosion was preventable.
The report said that there was deficiency in understanding of the gravity of a critical operation like removal of blowout preventer (BOP) without having a confirmed and tested secondary safety barrier. There was deficiency in proper planning of critical operations. There was a clear mismatch between planning and its execution at site and deviations from the Standard Operating Procedure. On the day of the blowout of well Baghjan-5 (May 27, 2020) and subsequent explosion (June 9, 2020), OIL did not have the mandatory Consent to Establish and Consent to Operate both under Section 25 & 26 of the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, under Section 21 of the Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act and the Rules framed thereunder and/or the authorization Rule 6 of the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016.
Remedial Measures to avoid similar blowout and explosions:
The hazardous release has impacted lives in a variety of ways and effected lives differently. Further, the Committee is of the view that in furthering the cause of environmental justice, people whose lives have been impacted must be meaningfully involved to participate in decisions that affect their lives, environment and health.
In pursuing this approach, the Committee has therefore sought the assistance and called for representations from the local communities including representatives such as Baghjan Gaon Milonjyoti Yuba Sangha.