Capping first bid by Indians
Oil India and ONGC personnel will take the first shot at capping the May 27 oil well blowout in upper Assam despite the arrival of three experts from Singapore who reached Duliajan, Oil India’s field headquarters, in the wee hours of Monday.
A senior Oil India official told The Telegraph that experts from Singapore-based company M/s Alert Disaster Control visited Baghjan, the affected site around 530km east of Guwahati, for stock-taking around noon after a briefing at Duliajan about the developments so far.
“The foreign experts have hit the ground running, but we will be taking the first shot at capping along with experts from ONGC on Thursday. The actual operation takes between two to three hours. If our operation does not yield the desired result, the experts from Singapore will take over,” the official said.
Sources said a reason for Oil India-ONGC deciding to go in first could have to do with the criticism they have been facing for not developing strategies/techniques to cap the well despite suffering a blowout at a oil well in nearby Dikom in Dibrugarh district in 2005. The experts, however, have complimented Oil India for all the preparatory work carried out so far.
“It is a huge boost to us. It shows we are on the right track. We are making all arrangements to prevent our personnel or nearby area from any hazard from the blowout,” the official said, adding the weather, which had affected preparatory work over the past four days, improved considerably on Monday.
The official said gas and condensate were flowing uncontrollably for the thirteenth day, disrupting local life and livelihood. Local residents continued to stage dharna for the third straight day, seeking immediate capping of the well and emergency financial assistance, among others.
The foreign experts, according to an Oil India statement issued in the evening, have said that “based on their wide experience of handling over 1,000 blowouts in about 135 countries under different conditions, they are confident of controlling the well at the earliest with necessary support from Oil India. They emphasised that the safety of local people and the technical team working at the well site will be their prime concern while carrying out their operations”.
The experts were flown in from Singapore on Sunday afternoon and moved to Duliajan by road immediately as the state government exempted them from the mandatory quarantine to check the spread of the coronavirus because they were “here to attend to an emergency”.
However, their swab samples were taken as per Covid protocol at the Guwahati airport and their host, Oil India, has been directed to ensure compliance “with all social distancing and hygiene norms by the visitors, along with providing isolated accommodation”.
In another boost to Oil India, the Tinsukia district administration on Sunday evening released a statement saying that a preliminary probe into four reported deaths in Baghjan area had revealed they were not because of gas emission.The probe revealed that one of the deceased was suffering from TB since 2019; another from liver disease and another (an epilepsy patient) had drowned.
A woman from the village also died but in Dibrugarh and had not visited her birth place in recent times. The district administration had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the media reports about the four deaths following a request from Oil India to ascertain the exact cause of the deaths.
The Oil India official said they would be compensating everyone affected within the 1.5km red zone from the well site.