OIL battled out with Baghjan

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Kamal Baruah

The Persian Gulf War oil spill 1991was not an accident. The biggest oil spills in history was the cause of a political conflict during the US led Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait that resulted in a devastating man-made environmental catastrophe. As promised, upon evacuation from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein poured 380–520 million gallons poured into the Gulf and Iraqi troops ignited nearly seven hundreds of Kuwait oil fields that burned for eight months. Some six million barrels of oil per day went up in smoke. Fire in Kuwait finally put out with nothing but sea water, sprayed from powerful hoses at the base of the fire.

Oil spills is a major environmental issue as a result of intensified petroleum exploration and production.The modern history of petroleum with the refining of paraffin (kerosene) from crude oil had begun since American Businessman Edwin Drake’s 1859 well near Titusville Pennsylvania US. They saw seepage oil which is suitable for use as lamp oil. India’s oil story had begun in 1989, when a group of Italian engineers contracted to build a railway line from Dibrugarh to Margherita, by the Assam Railways and Trading Company, accidentally discovered oil in Digboi in 1867. However, incidents do occur during production of oil and gas operations worldwide.

When worker safety is disregarded, negligence will often eventually take its toll. Baghjan disaster might be the result of old and damaged equipment, human error and bad luck while extracting oil from the ground. It lost 46,440 metric tons of crude oil and 120 million metric St Cubic meter of natural gas. Gas Well of Oil India Limited (OIL) at Baghjan, Tinsukia District, Assam has blown out on May 27 and a massive fire has been raging and gas is still flowing uncontrollably. The people of Baghjan are witnessing the months of misery that turned into a devastating fire. The blowout site is located next to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. The National Green Tribunal has reported that the oil well is being operated illegally. It caused massive loss to the environment and wildlife.

All attempts to douse the fire in the oil field have proven unsuccessful despite pumping huge water to the well through the casing valves to minimize chances of fire. Arrangements are also made by digging of water reservoir near well site plinth continuously jacketing water to the well to avert any eventuality and monitored at strategic points. But they are not enough. With catastrophic disaster is in the offing, OIL has to engage agencies like NABET accredited consultant, CSIR-NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) and Wild Life Institute of India, Dehradun for caring out Environment Impact Assessment Study to examine impact on environment.

Five months on, the massive fire is still blazing despite numerous attempts of dousing it. Thousands of displaced locals within a radius of two kilometers endure pollution, ruined homes and loss of livelihood around the site. The paddy fields have been destroyed since the natural gas condensate from the well has spilled all over the wetland and river. They have been surviving on rations in the relief camp. The blowout efforts are continued without any success. While the overall impact of the blowout has decreased to a great extent it has already killed two people. Finally Singapore based firm “M/s Alert Disaster Control” is being mobilized.

The world largest Civilian transport aircraft ANTONOV (AN-124) landed at Kolkata on October 28 carrying 59,000 Kg payload for Baghjan-5 for the snubbing operation from Calgary, Canada.The massive aircraft landed there as both Guwahati and Dibrugarh airport runway cannot handle the Ukrainian aircraft, which is used worldwide for its long haul cargo dropping. The aircraft was commissioned by Piston Well Service Inc of Canada which was hired by Alert Disaster Control, Singapore. The specialized snubbing truck was unrolled from the aircraft and loaded onto a trailer and is being driven to Duliajan and may take up a week to reach Baghjan. Seven experts are also brought from Canada’s Alberta along with the Snubbing technique unit inside AN-124 to control the well-fire completely.

Before it happen, Baghjan saw large-scale death of birds, animals and trees. Oil pollution have polluted water environment. It spreads over the surface in a thin layer that stops oxygen getting to the plants and animals that live in the water. Thereby harms animals and insects preventing photosynthesis in plants and disrupting the food chain.

Eyewitnesses saw the scene as hell on earth. The lessons are yet to learn from such environmental terrorism.  Oil companies deliberately set the gas-well ablaze for inferior technology. Advances in technologies used for well drilling will play a critical role in meeting global energy demand. Horizontal, multilateral, extended reach and automated drilling would be faster, more efficient and safer too. In doing so, it can save the environment. OIL must battle it out until the well-fire abandoned and plucked.

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