Fire extended to nearby villages on Tuesday Credit: Rishu Kalantri

Tinsukia: The major gas spill at the Oil India Limited (OIL) well at Baghjan oilfield in Assam’s Tinsukia district developed a major fire on Tuesday, leaving a billow of dark smoke emitting out of the well that can be seen from a distance of around 40 km. This has prompted the locals, who were camping at a relief camp in Baghjan ME School, to abandon the camp and move towards other safer locations.

The fire has been rated as Assam’s worst-ever well fire in more than a decade, reminding one of the fire at OIL well in Dikom in Dibrugarh in 2005, and takes place a day after three experts from Singapore visited the site of well blowout at Baghjan and carried out their assessment.

Confirming the development, chairman and managing director (CMD) of OIL Sushil Chandra Mishra said that a small spark may have led to the fire which is accidental in nature. “We will require around four-week time to kill the well and control the fire,” he said

“The global experts from Singapore, who have been connected to Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, have said that, no, it will be easier to control the well, rather than before when blowout without fire was happening, as there is always a risk to catch fire any time,” added Mishra.

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Fire causes harm to the nearby villagers

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“The condensate in the surrounding area will burn for sometime and extinguish,” Mishra said, adding: Wednesday onwards, attempt will be made to control the strength of the fire.

According to sources, there have been protests by irate villagers on the Baghjan side of the rig. “The angry villagers have attacked OIL vehicles, damaging the glass panes,” the source added.

OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika said, there are violent protests around the well site. “OIL has requested the chief secretary of Assam and district administration for maintaining law and order so that the experts are allowed to enter the site and start the well control operations.”

Hazarika said, “A fire fighter from ONGCL sustained minor injuries. Fire tenders are at the site controlling the spread of fire.”

Post the incident, emergency meetings are underway with the expert team from Alert Damage Control, who will bring the current situation under control. “They have expressed that it is now a safe environment for working and are confident that the situation can be controlled and the well can be capped safely,” Hazarika said, adding, “The situation demands arrangement of large quantities of water, installation of high discharge pumps and removal of debris.”

“While chalking out the plans with ALERT team in the morning five options were presented by ALERT team which included ‘Capping Stack Guide Rail’ Mechanism and ‘Ignite Well’ options,”Hazarika added.

ONGC & OIL teams had made considerable progress with the “Capping Stack Guide Rail” mechanism and it was decided to proceed with the same.

Hazarika said, “All officials of OIL and ONGC are being evacuated from nearby areas. Once the situation is normal, the experts from ALERT and the staff of OIL and ONGC will move to the site,” he added.

The “blowout” occurred at a producing well number 5 of OIL, situated in close proximity to Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the famous migratory birds habitat Maguri-Motapung Beel, while work-over operations for extracting gas from new sand (oil & gas bearing reservoir) at a depth of 3,729 metres was on, leaving natural gas gush out to a height of hundreds of feet since past one week, turning an entire area beyond 1.5 kms, including Baghjan village, into a “gas chamber”.

Talking to this correspondent, president of Baghjan Gaon Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha, Satyajit Moran said, several houses has caught fire towards the Baghjan side. “Around 4,000 inmates of the Baghjan ME school relief camp has abandoned the camp and moved to Bunderkhati High School, around 4-km away from the well side.”

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Foreign experts moving to the site of the fire

“Sown paddy fields, trees and plants have also caught fire as condensate oil was spilling continuously for last 13 days,” added Moran.

“I have heard explosion sound of a cylinder. Few houses had caught fire when I left,” an employee of a contractor working at Baghjan told this correspondent.

An officer of the district administration said, the fire has started spreading towards the Natun Gaon side. “It has almost spread around 300 metres on this side,” he added.

According to sources, several houses up to an area of 500 metres have caught fire on the Baghjan side. “In fact the fire is spreading on both the side,” sources added.

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Glimpse of the fire

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Terming it to be very harmful for humans and wildlife, professor of department of Chemistry of Tinsukia College, Biplab Banik, said, the dark smoke that can be seen right from Tinsukia is nothing but carbon monoxide and dioxide. “As the concentration to carbon dioxide increase, the temperature will shoot up.”

“The Carbon Dioxide is highly toxic for human beings and wildlife and can destroy the lungs,” added Professor Banik.

Professor Banik said, in my opinion the temperature must have already crossed 100 degrees.

“The fuels present inside the LPG cylinder when come in contact with Oxygen become a highly ecothermic reaction. A slight spark is all it needs to explode,” explaining the chemical reactions Professor Banik said, if there is rainfall, there will be formation of Carbonic acid, Sulphuric acid and Nitric acid.

Professor Banik said, sulphur and nitrogen compounds are present in ores and minerals as metal sulphides and metal nitrides.

Engineering at the site
Black smoke continuously coming out of the site
Villagers near the site
Residential area near the site
Fire may create havoc for the biodiversity in the area
Villagers staying in a relief camp
Villagers also helping the authorities concerned to control the situation

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“Hence, it will undergo combustion to form sulphur and nitrogen oxides which in contact with water will form sulphuric and nitric acid. This possibility cannot be ruled out.”

In presence of high temperature they will evaporate and will be volatile which undergoes condensation in the form of acid rain, Professor Banik added.

Being, rainy season in the state of Assam, probability of rainfall is quite and high and it may lead to acid rain.

All attempts to speak to the deputy commissioner of Tinsukia Bhaskar Pegu turned futile.

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