The site near the oil and gas blowout and fire at Baghjan in Assam's Tinsukia district | Photo: Bidyut Kalita

Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in a report has said that the potential of oil blow-out and oil spill-like disaster is a reality and hence such oil wells in the vicinity of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam and other similar ecological sites will be detrimental to the conservation value of the unique ecosystem.

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Established in 1982, WII is an autonomous institution of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change. It is an internationally-acclaimed institution, which offers training programme, academic courses and advisory in wildlife research and management.

The report said that due consideration needs to be given to this threat for future development.

An oil well operated by Oil India Limited (OIL) at Baghjan in Assam’s Tinsukia district developed leakage on May 27 and ever since it continued emitting condensate and gas. It later caught massive fire on June 9 causing much damage to the area. It has been burning continuously since then.

“Safety audits for all other wells, currently operational or being planned, need to be done. Risk management study needs to be done to ensure appropriate risk mitigation strategies. A detailed management plan needs to be developed for safety measures and dealing with oil leakage. Observing the ecological disaster caused by this incident, the proposed oil exploration and development in Mechaki, Mechaki extension, Baghjan and Tinsukia Extension PML (Petroleum Mining Lease) needs to be reassessed, since this is the habitat of critically endangered species of this region,” said the report.

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Maguri-Motapung wetland, a spot known for avian and aquatic species is located towards the south of the Baghjan site which is not even a kilometer away. Dibru Saikhowa National Park, another biodiversity hotspot is also located nearby which is not even 2 kilometre away in the north.

The report said that the spill has resulted in mass mortality and severely impacting the environmental condition resulting in debilitating conditions for species to survive.

“The toxic fumes and oil coating has universally affected flora and fauna. The contaminants and oil continue to be released in surrounding areas and immediate steps are needed to contain this spill over. The toxins released are known to have long-term persistence in soils and sediments, which will not only affect current life conditions, but due to sustained release over a long period, pose a serious health risk for a longer term,” it said.

The final preparation is going on at the site for capping the well.

“All operational crew reached the site early on July 31 for carrying out the planned capping operation. The BOP (blowout preventer) stack was hooked up with the Athey Wagon for placing on the well head. While the final capping operation was being attempted, the Athey Wagon toppled over at the last moment and the attempt did not succeed. Reasons for the same are being ascertained for next course of action,” said a statement of OIL on July 31.

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