Expert panel holds OIL accountable for Baghjan blowout

GUWAHATI: A committee of experts constituted by the National Green Tribunal has found major lapses on the part of Oil India Limited leading to the Baghjan blowout, pointing out a “clear mismatch between planning and execution” at the site.

The eight-member committee, headed by former Gauhati High Court judge, B.P Katakey, and constituted to look into various aspects of the mishap, submitted its preliminary report to the tribunal on Friday.

“There was a clear mismatch between planning and its execution at site and deviations from the standard operating procedure (SOP). There were serious deficiencies of proper level of supervision of critical operation at well site both from the contractor as well as from OIL,” the panel stated in its report.

“Based on the preliminary assessment to date, the committee is of the unanimous opinion that the Well Baghjan-5 blowout and explosion was preventable,” it said.

The committee, on the other hand, recommended interim compensation of Rs 25 lakh to families whose houses have been completely destroyed in the incident; Rs 10 lakh to families whose houses have been severely damaged and Rs 2.5 lakh for those moderately damaged.

The panel pointed out that OIL, which started drilling operations at Baghjan well number five in 2006, does not have, till date, the required consent to establish and/or consent to operate to either carry out drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at the site under both the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act.

The committee further recommended scrutiny of all existing projects of OIL in Assam’ in view of ‘serious and grave infraction against the statutory environmental safeguards’.

The panel found “conclusive evidence of violations and non-compliance by OIL of key environmental safeguards and safety oversight that appears to render the environmental protections” guaranteed under various laws ineffective.”

Among several instances it referred to, the report stated, ‘the well gave more than one hour to take some corrective measures but precious time was lost in decision making as no senior officers were at site, only telephonic discussions were going on’.

The report further said that OIL did not have the mandatory prior environmental clearance for the project.

The committee also noted that the company was yet to conduct a biodiversity impact assessment study as mandated by a Supreme Court order that allowed it to seek clearance for exploring hydrocarbons under Dibru Saikhowa National Park in 2017. It said the fallout has “severely affected” the area in a radius of 6 km from the well, close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland.


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