A massive fire has engulfed a natural-gas producing well of Oil India Limited (OIL) in upper Assam's Tinsukia district, that has been leaking gas for the last 14 days. Smoke from the fire, that began this afternoon, can reportedly be seen from 10 km away and locals claim it has spread to nearby villages.
The Indian Air Force and the Army are assisting in the firefighting operations, after the Sarbananda Sonowal government requested for help. The Air Force has sent three fire engines, and the Army has reached the area and is on stand-by. The area has been cordoned off by paramilitary forces.
Sources say the fire is still not under control.
Oil India says the well caught fire while clearing operations were underway at the site. Oil India, in its statement, also said that there were violent protests around the leak site, and that all Oil India and ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) teams have been evacuated.
'Well killing' experts, who had been flown in yesterday from Singapore, will take around four weeks to totally cap the well, sources say.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal spoke to Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan earlier in the day and has sent Industries Minister Chandramohan Patowary to the area to monitor the situation.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed in the area since the time of the gas leak and top officials of Assam are also reviewing the situation.
The oil well at Baghjan Tinsukia, about 500 kilometres from Guwahati, had a blowout on May 27 and has been leaking gas for the past 14 days, causing grave damage to the region's wetlands and biodiversity.
Images shared by locals on social media show gas condensate depositing in the Maguri Beel wetland, carcasses of endangered Gangetic dolphins and other aquatic life floating in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, barely three kilometres from the oil field.
Paddy fields, ponds and wetlands in the adjoining villages have also been contaminated and the threat is growing with every passing day. Several small tea growers in the area have also complained about layers of gas condensates in their tea gardens.
At least 6,000 people living in a 1.5-km radius of the natural gas producing well have been evacuated and placed in relief camps. Oil India Limited has also announced financial relief of Rs 30,000 to each to the affected families.