Baghjan disaster due to gross disregard for safety regulations, practices: Parliamentary panel
The Baghjan blow out incident in Tinsukia district of Assam

Guwahati: A parliamentary committee that examined the safety and security of oil installations of public sector oil companies with specific reference to the Baghjan blowout incident in Assam has called for a comprehensive review of the safety requirements for the oil and gas industry.

“The serious incidents which happen in the petroleum sector are a cause of concern and that lessons learned by Oil/PSUs from one incident should prevent other accidents and should be taken seriously by PSUs,” the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Petroleum & Natural Gas said in its report placed in the Parliament.

The Committee took briefings of the representatives of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas/Oil PSUs in connection with the examination of the subject at their sittings held in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

A major well blowout occurred on May 27, 2020, at Baghjan oil well- 5 in the Tinsukia district, releasing high-pressure natural gas. The Committee examined the circumstances and events leading to the leakage of gas and oil condensate from Well No. 5 of the Baghjan oil field in the Tinsukia district of Assam on  May 27, 2020, followed by the fire and blowout of an oil well on June 9, 2020, and OIL’s subsequent handling of the incident.

The Committee noted with concern that the disaster had happened not because of any equipment failure but rather due to the cumulative effect of human errors during different stages of the workover operations at Baghjan-5. “The Committee further notes that the disaster had happened due to gross disregard of safety regulations and practices and lack of effective monitoring of workover operations,” the report said with the committee recommending that the Ministry should expedite the submission of the Report by the Working Group so that review/updation of safety framework of the petroleum sector of the country may be taken up.

The Committee noted that in the Baghjan incident, the waiting on cement (WOC) which was 48 hours was compromised by OIL and its officials instructed the crew of M/s John Energy Limited (JEL) to start pulling out of the same after 12 hours only in violation of the plans.

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The Committee further notes that the High-Level Committee which investigated the causes of the incident had observed several lapses on the part of OIL also at the planning, execution, organizational and training and accreditation levels. The Committee also noted that though M/s JEL was the contractor, it was acting under close supervision and control of OIL.

Moreover, after the completion of pull out, the crew of M/s JEL started the removal of Blow out preventer (BOP) to change the wellhead, even though the cement had not set in and there were no written instructions from OIL which severely compromised the safety of the well, and therefore, appears to be a major immediate cause of the incident.

“These lapses on the part of officials of OIL in planning and execution of workover programme at Baghjan-5 have led this Committee to conclude that the safety agencies like Directorate General of Mines Security (DGMS)/ Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD) should lay emphasis on strict compliance with laid down procedures for carrying out various operations.

Accordingly, the Committee recommends Ministry/OIL/ Safety Agencies to put up a framework and protocol of accountability to foster and promote a strong safety culture among their officials and employees and of their contractors followed by strict enforcement and encourage them in adhering to the same,” the report said.

The Committee noted that three Committees constituted to enquire about the Baghjan incident had found a series of lapses on the part of officials of OIL concerned with the planning and execution of the workover at Baghjan-5. The Committee further notes that the crisis management of the incident could have been better.

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The Committee observes that fixing responsibilities in this regard is grossly inadequate to the proportion of damages caused and lapses committed at procedural levels by the personnel of OIL.

It said although senior officers’ role is more of supervisory nature, the same was missing in this case. “Accordingly, this Committee recommends the Ministry institute an inquiry into the lack of proper supervision and monitoring in the workover programme at Baghjan-5 and fix appropriate responsibility and accountability to bring out any erring and incompetent officials of OIL,” the report added.

On the need for observance of environmental laws, the Committee noted that the Justice B.P. Katakey Committee Report had found that OIL did not have the mandatory clearances under several Acts to operate in the particular well.

The Committee further noted that the replies of the Ministry and OIL inform that it had mandatory consent to establish or operate under above mentioned laws on the day of the blowout of Baghjan-5 and subsequent fire on 09.06.2020. However, the Ministry has stated that OIL had obtained all mandatory statutory clearances as per the requisite applicable laws.

Also Read | Assam: Two years after oilfield disaster, bitter harvest in Baghjan

The Committee noted that many licenses and approvals are required under various laws regarding the mining and protection of the environment for the exploration and extraction of oil and gas. The Committee further notes that these licenses are for a specific period and they are required to be renewed after the expiration of the same.

“If these were to be reviewed by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH)/Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas from time to time, such lapses could have been noticed. There is a need to institutionalise such a mechanism,” the report said.

The Committee noted that in the Baghjan incident, the safety equipment which was mobilized from ONGC/OIL in Assam, Vadodara, and Ahmedabad was inadequate and hence foreign expertise from Singapore was roped in and snubbing unit was mobilized from Canada which indicates that the country lacks requisite equipment/technology and skilled expertise in handling such incidents.

The Committee called for the need for a single safety agency for the petroleum sector as many agencies are performing focused and limited roles in enforcing the rules and regulations under the laws mandated to them. “Many a time gaps in legislation are also not noticed as many regulators are busy enforcing their mandate alone,” it said.

The Committee noted that as there are many oil and gas installations in the North East and several new projects are being undertaken, it is essential that along with energy infrastructure, the associated safety, security, and environment-related response system should also be augmented and kept in readiness to meet any emergency.

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The Committee found that during the blowout incident in 2020 in Baghjan, the snubbing units from Canada could not land at the Guwahati Airport and had to be unloaded at Kolkata airport which had the required infrastructure and then moved by road which caused the avoidable delay.

The Committee, therefore, recommended that the Ministry should do a comprehensive area survey of the North-Eastern Region and map all the oil and gas fields/installations /units, etc., and also the nearest road/ rail/ airport infrastructure available for handling disaster management equipment/machinery required in case of emergency and take coordinated action in association with the Ministries concerned to strengthen the aviation/rail and road infrastructure in the region.

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