Assam: Oil Spill at Baghjan

June 4, 2020

STATEMENT OF CONCERN ON IMPACTS OF 27 May 2020 OIL SPILL AT BAGHJAN, ASSAM ON THE PEOPLE AND BIODIVERSITY OF THE REGION

Individuals and members of Civil Society Organizations would like to draw urgent attention to the oil spill at Baghjan village, Tinsukia district Assam and to express our concerns with the adverse and irreparable environmental and social impacts that is caused due to the oil spill at Baghjan and also all the other ongoing extractive projects in the entire North East region.     

On 27th of May, around 10.30 AM, a major blowout, or an uncontrolled release of natural gas was reported at the Baghjan Oilfield of Oil India Limited (OIL) in Tinsukia district of Assam. The oil well exploded in a fountain of crude oil after reported failure of the pressure control systems. The oil spill continues since and technicians failed to control it as of June 3, 2020.  

On the day of the oil spill, villagers in the vicinity of the drilling site at prime oil well (BGR No 5), heard a series of booming metallic sound erupting from a dysfunctional oil pipe. The residents first thought it to be the sound of a jet plane or helicopter in the sky. However, they soon heard a massive blowout from the oil-well, after which the well has been spilling oil into the atmosphere.

People began fleeing from their village; some to their friends and relatives, some took shelter in the village school premises and some were shifted to relief camps. It would be around 500 (approx. no assessment has been done so far) families that have taken shelter in the school. After a night of horror, some became eager to return to their homes as the sanitary condition in the relief camp was deplorable.

Baghjan Oilfield is located right next to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, known especially for its migratory birds and feral horses. The villagers of this area depend on the Wetland and the Dangori and Dibru Rivers in the Baghjan area as sources of livelihood. The oil spill as seen after 6 days already unleashed an adverse effect on biodiversity of this area.

Dense particles or condensates from the blow-out have turned the local atmosphere misty; rain-like droplets falling on the vegetation have formed a sticky oily layer. The bright sun and the subsequent day of rainfall withered the leaves on standing trees which soon will be bare. Condensates settling on the skins of livestock have led to deep wounds. It is highly unlikely that the affected animals would survive.

Surrounding the affected Baghjan village are the rivers Dangori and Dibru which flows into the Lohit to join the majestic Brahmaputra River. The oil spill will contaminate the Rivers all the way to River Brahmaputra. The unique site forms the natural habitat and breeding ground of the highly endangered species including the river dolphin.

The month of May is usually the nesting and breeding season for birds and fishes. The wetland, with thick bushes and shrubs on its shores is a paradise for bird watchers and research scholars around the world. In fact, this ecosystem has nurtured a promising industry of eco-tourism and environmental learning with its rich diversity. 

In the wake of the blowout several endangered birds and fish varieties and a dead carcass of a Gangetic Dolphin was found by locals of the area. This indicates that there might be many such carcasses floating in inaccessible parts of the location. Since a decade and a half, the oil exploration by Oil India Limited (OIL) and other oil companies has been going on in this highly sensitive zone.

To tap the oil and gas resources, OIL even came up with an Extended Reach Drill technology, to intersect hydrocarbon targets far from the existing drilling well plinth. Using this technology oil exploration can be done without entering a protected area like the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, but oil extraction cannot happen without destroying the surrounding areas. 

People of Baghjan village also reported that a great flame, burning continuously prior to this incident already caused big problems for the villagers, due to which, decline in rate of pollination and migratory birds losing their routes or falling dead at the flame was common. For long, villagers complained of headache, irritation of eyes, skins, and nasal passages.

Based on environmental clearance issued by the MoEFCC, OIL is fully aware of the conditions to be adhered under the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) act 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981; Environment (Protection) Act 1986; Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2016; Public Liability Insurance Act 1991; and many orders passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court, High Court of Assam and any other Court of Law relating to subject matter. However, OIL failed to comply with the conditions outlined in the Environment Clearance Report. 

Further, OIL was required to take adequate measures to prevent spillage of hazardous wastes into the water bodies through designated drains and treatment facilities and further to proven measures to mitigate oil spilling and fire hazards. Further, para xviii of the Environment Clearance Report directs the company to install blow-out prevention system to avoid accidents during drilling. The May 27 blow incident testifies the failure of the precautionary measures. 

The OIL company unleashed human rights violations by contaminating the land and water bodies and by denying the livelihood of communities depending on rivers and wetlands.  The company denies safety to its own workers and to the resident and was responsible for the loss of acclaimed mammal the Gangetic Dolphin and killed several endemic aquatic species. The destruction is continuing. 

Therefore, individuals and organizations of the Assam and in North East would like to draw attention to the Baghjan incident and as well to other extractive projects implemented or planned to be implemented across India’s North East  

  • Regarding the oil spill in Baghjan area, we demand urgent and immediate rehabilitation and compensation of the villagers 
  • Immediate clean-up of the village areas, water bodies and air contaminated by the Oil spill.  
  • Overall companies exploring and exploiting natural resources in the region, should be held accountable for social impacts and irreparable loss of biodiversity of the region caused by their explorations. Especially, extraction of oil and other resources and drilling/extraction in eco sensitive and fragile biodiversity zones in the entire region of the North East should be put on halt.  

(June 2nd, 2020) 

Endorsed by: 

  1. Linda Chhakchhuak, Journalist, Meghalaya  
  1. Jiten Yumnam, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur 
  1. Ravindranath, River Basin Friends, Assam  
  1. Alana Golmei, Humanitarian and Lawyer
  1. Kaustubh Deka, Dibrugarh University 
  1. Belinder Dhanoa, Ambedkar University 
  1. Bano Haralu, Journalist, Conservationist, Nagaland 
  1. KK Chatradhara, Assam 
  1. Nirantar Gohain, Wave Eco-Tourism 
  1. Ranjan Panda, Combat Climate Change Network, India 
  1. Gunrei Kamei, Environmentalist, Manipur 
  1. Ms. Christina Lamremdik, Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur