Amid a spike in coronavirus cases and the first wave of floods in Assam, the state is bracing for yet another crisis - for the last five days an oil well owned by Oil India Ltd in Upper Assam has been releasing natural gas into the air after a leak. Sources said Oil India officials are still working to plug the leak.
At least 2,000 people in a 1.5-km radius from the oil well have been shifted to relief camps. The National Disaster Response Force or NDRF has been called in to help in relief camp operations for the residents of village Baghjan in Tinsukia district, some 450 km from Guwahati.
The well exploded in a fountain of crude oil after pressure control systems failed earlier this week. The continuous release of gas threatens sensitive wetlands, a national park and endangered species in the area, sources said.
After the Assam government's request, the centre and Oil India have sent experts to help bring the gas leak under control. Oil India said it cannot tell by when this blowout will be controlled. The company said it is in touch with US-based "well-killing" experts and they could be asked to assist.
"The day it happened we spoke to the Union Petroleum Minister and the centre has taken it seriously. The centre is sending more experts. The CMD of Oil India himself is overseeing operations. The Chief Minister has asked the authorities of the State Pollution Control Board to visit the area. From tomorrow (Sunday) more experts will be joining the operation to stop the leakage," Assam minister and government spokesperson Chandra Mohan Patowary said on Saturday.
Residents of village Baghjan alleged they have seen carcasses of the endangered Gangetic Dolphins in the Maguribeel wetlands. There is also a habitat of the Hoolock Gibbons in the area. Photos and videos of what appear to be oil spill in the wetlands have been widely shared.
The villagers said they are experiencing a heavy smell of gas in the air and oil has spilled into several areas around the eco-sensitive zone at Dibru Saikhowa National Park, known for the migratory birds and feral horses it attracts.
The state forest department has also issued notice to Oil India after fishes and a dolphin reportedly died in a lake close to Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, news agency Press Trust of India reported. Photographs of a dead river dolphin and fish floating in a lake, claimed to be Maguri-Motapung lake adjacent to the national park and 1.5 km from the oil well, have been shared on social media.
"We issued notice to Oil India yesterday seeking a detailed report of the extent of damage to the environment through our Tinsukia DFO (divisional forest officer). We have asked them to give details of the area under damage and composition of the gas and liquid," PTI quoted an unnamed official as saying.
Sources said Oil India's five-member committee has started a probe into the incident. Experts from ONGC have also reached the area to help in bringing the situation under control, sources said.
The last time such a massive well blowout had taken place in Assam was in 2005 in Dikom in Dibrugarh district. The well was capped after 45 days with the help of experts from the US.