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Indian natural gas well with “uncontrollable” leak explodes 13 days after initial blowout, killing two

10 June 2020

The Oil India Limited (OIL) natural gas well in the state of Assam, India which suffered a blowout on May 27 has now exploded and erupted into flames. International experts arrived on June 8 to help plug the "uncontrollable" leak but the well exploded a day later on June 9. OIL said there was no immediate danger to locals, however the fire spread to local villages on June 10, killing two firefighters.

Image: OIL (Twitter)
Image: OIL (Twitter)

The leak from the rig at the Baghjan oilfield, north east India, has so far forced the evacuation of around 2500 people and killed scores of fish, birds, and monkeys, as well as an endangered dolphin. In a statement, OIL explained how on May 27 at around 10:30, the well suddenly became very active while workover operations were underway. The statement added that there was no sign of fire, casualties or damage following the blowout, however gas continued to flow uncontrollably from the well for 13 days before the fire and explosion on June 9.

A team of experts from Singapore-based Alert Disaster Control were not on the site when the well exploded but at OIL's offices, planning operations to plug the well. The Hindustan Times reports that the significant fire and explosion caused a large plume of black smoke which could be seen from several kilometres away.

A spokesperson for OIL said that the reason for the leak catching fire is unknown. A fireman suffered a minor injury during the incident while no other injuries were reported. The spokesperson added that there was no immediate danger to locals, however a day later on June 10, two firefighters were found dead at a nearby pond where they are believed to have drowned after trying to escape the blaze which has begun to spread away from the site.

According to newspaper The Indian Express, locals have reported being able to smell gas from several kilometres away while others have experienced a burning sensation in their eyes and respiratory issues. Around 2500 locals have been evacuated from the area and sent to three relief camps at local schools.

OIL has stationed fire personnel at the well 24 hours a day to continuously provide a water jacket since the blowout happened. Air quality has also been monitored at regular intervals, OIL said. 

Several species of birds, fish, monkeys and snakes have been found dead, as well as an endangered species of dolphin. The rig is located next to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park which is home to several endangered species of animals. 

In a statement, OIL said it is awaiting the observations and findings of the District Administration, Forest department, Pollution Control Board so that all necessary steps can be taken to protect the local environment. The Express adds that OIL has only recently come under scrutiny from environmentalists after the state-run company was given permission from the government to drill at seven different locations under the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.


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