What had happened a little more than two years ago, on May 27, 2020 was a horrendous incident, a blowout occurring at Well no.5 resulting in a leak of natural gas. The resultant explosion and fire that had lasted more than five months, from May 27 to November 15, 2020, in the natural gas well of Oil India Limited (OIL) had triggered irreparable damages to the then prevailing environment, bio-diversity, wildlife, eco-system and forest.
Worse, apart from human habitation, cropland and water-bodies bearing the burnt of the accident, the picturesque Dibru-Saikhowa National park, which is located close to the site, also suffered grievously during the prolonged fire. According to a media report, a prime wetland and a nearby Important Bird Area (IBA), the Maguri Motabung Beel had also come under the impact of the leakage, with a black, oily substance and natural gas permeating the water-body. It is the place where the carcass of a river dolphin and some dead fish had been found. As per another report, as many as 1,632 hectares of wetland, 523 ha of grassland and 213 ha of forest were damaged, while the blowout, explosion and fire in the gas well of OIL at Baghjan resulted in the loss of an estimated 55 per cent of the bio-diversity in the affected Dibru-Saikhowa landscape.
The blowout incident took three human lives including that of a young engineer and two firemen of OIL. Incidentally, this is the second such major blowout incident since 2005, not to refer to several other similar oil and gas spill incidents in the recent past. The OIL majors such as OIL ought to have treated the matter seriously due to the grave hazards including environmental disaster stemming from such dangerous incidents. These were avoidable had it put in place the required safeguards. It was incumbent upon the OIL to put in place an effective safeguard mechanism against such unsavoury developments as the Oil major was reported to be not in a position to remedy the resultant grim situation even after a week of the blowout and global fire-fighting experts were then being flown in to contain the leakage. Notably, there had occurred a similar such incident at an abandoned oil well at Dikom in Dibrugarh district in 2005 which warranted intervention of foreign experts after days of leakage.
What was worse is the fact that many families in and around the blowout site were badly affected by the gas outflow and fire at Baghjan in terms of livelihood. According to a 2021 report, most of the families lost their primary sources of livelihood, and close to 3,000 families were displaced and about 11,000 residents were accommodated in shelters in schools amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
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