Oil cover at Maguri beel following the OIL well 'blowout'

Tinsukia: Almost a week after the gas well “blowout” at an oilfield of the Oil India Limited (OIL) near here, the forest department has constituted a 10-member high-level inquiry committee to access its impact on wildlife and the ecology in the national park and the wetland adjacent to the oilfield.

The committee, to be headed by chief wildlife warden MK Yadav, comes almost a week after the gas well “blowout” at an existing well number 5 of Oil India Limited (OIL) at the Baghjan oilfield of OIL in Assam’s Tinsukia district, situated in close proximity to Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the famous migratory birds habitat Maguri-Motapung Beel, has left natural gas gush out to a height of hundreds of feet since past six days, turning the entire area beyond a km, including Baghjan village, into a “gas chamber”.

Talking to this correspondent, Yadav said, basically it is about the ecology, ecosystem, water, air, pollution and possible impact on the national park and the downstream areas. “This is the mandate of the enquiry committee and the notification has been received by him on Wednesday.”

“The team constitutes a group of local experts from various institutions, including a professor from Tezpur University,” added Yadav.

Also Read: Assam: Gas well blowout at Tinsukia OIL field, families evacuated

Local villagers in large numbers take out rally demanding adequate relief to the affected families

Also Read: OIL exploration in Assam: But at what cost to biodiversity?

We are trying to test samples for heavy metals and hydrocarbons, Yadav said, adding, however, the laboratory facilities required for this type of testing is available in the Northeast. “We are trying to tie up with some accredited laboratory outside the Northeast.”

Yadav said, the situation is complex because of continuous flow of inflammable gas at a high pressure.

“We cannot fly drones to start surveillance in 5-kms radius area, a no fly zone. A small spark can result in a huge fire making situation much worse than it is today. We have instructed the DFO to coordinate and collect samples for testing.”

On Thursday, affected villagers, camping in the relief camp, took out a protest rally and shouted slogans against the OIL. “OIL go back, go back.. shut down the oilfield… were some of the slogans raised by the villagers,” Satyajit Moran, president of Baghjan Gaon Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha, who led the protest rally, said.

Moran said, “We had submitted an eight-point charter demands to OIL CMD Sushil Chandra Mishra on the day he visited the well site and relief camp. The villagers demanded an interim relief of Rs 5,000 each and gave an ultimatum of 48-hours. On Wednesday, a meeting was held at the office of the circle officer of Doomdooma, in presence of OIL officials, on the issue of interim relief but it did not turn out to be fruitful after which the villagers gave deadline of 12 noon today to pay compensation or face protest.”

The ‘blowout’ site

“Villagers in large numbers took out a protest march and gathered outside the gate of Baghjan EPS of OIL and protested there,” Moran said, adding: The villages, mostly farmers, have lost their livelihood – their sown paddies, tea bushes, betel nut trees and livestock all have been destroyed.

“Even after eight days, OIL has failed to control the blowout. Doesn’t that raise question on the credibility of oil,” director of Baghjan Jatiya Vidyalaya, Hemanto Moran questioned.

On Wednesday, a team of researchers from Jeeva Suraksha, Assam, an NGO, visited the site of Maguri Motapung Beel and Dighal Tarang belt to collect ground information.

Ranjita Bania, director of the NGO, said, the team has collected water from the beel area for further analysis. “They found dead fishes there and collected them for identification. The fishes were found to be oily when touched.”

“As per the data from the site and discussion with the local residents, it is estimated that over 20 species of fishes have been found dead,” Bania said, adding: “It is noticed that till date there is no report of death of big sized fish. However, the indigenous species are more valuable in terms of biodiversity and local demand. Again this is the breeding season of fishes, which is expected to be hampered with the disturbances.”

Bania alleged, “As, Maguri beel is hub of some endemic species which are very rarely found in Assam, the death of such species like Badis badis is upsetting. The hardy fishes like goroi, magur, etc., which can tolerate in adverse conditions are also found dead.”

The water of the beel is wearing an oil cover. “The team could hear the loud noise from the gas well which is disturbing the ecology. Following the day-long visit, the team members felt headache as they return to their base camp. Now, hopefully one can easily imagine the condition of local villagers and wildlife around due to the disaster,” Bania regretted.

In the meantime, joint secretary (exploration) Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Amar Nath, is camping in upper Assam since two days.

A source said, Nath held meeting with DFO and visited the core area of the national park.

“On Wednesday, he visited the well site and held a round of discussions with various stake holders,” OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika said, adding : We are expecting the two experts from Alert Damage Control, who have been flown in from Singapore and Bangkok, to arrive anytime on Thursday night.

“They will land at Dibrugarh and head to Duliajan,” added Hazarika.

A source in OIL said that the plan to attack the well, which was originally decided to take place on Thursday, has been put on hold.

The operation is likely to start this weekend, he added.

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