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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

NGT panel red-flags violations at OIL’s Baghjan project

In a preliminary report, the panel has recommended “scrutiny of all existing projects of OIL in Assam” in view of “serious and grave infraction against the statutory environmental safeguards”.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar , Shivam Patel | New Delhi | Updated: July 29, 2020 6:29:47 am
OIL workers at the site of the blowout on July 22. (Courtesy: OIL)

POINTING OUT that OIL “does not have, till date, the required consent to establish and/or consent to operate to either carry out drilling and testing of hydrocarbons in Well Baghjan-5,” a panel of experts set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has flagged a series of violations in the company’s Baghjan project in Assam’s Tinsukia where a gas well erupted on May 27.

In a preliminary report, the panel has recommended “scrutiny of all existing projects of OIL in Assam” in view of “serious and grave infraction against the statutory environmental safeguards”.

The report blamed “deficiency in understanding” and “proper planning of critical operations” for the blowout. “There was a clear mismatch between planning and its execution at site and deviations from the standard operating procedure. There were serious deficiencies, of proper levels of supervision of critical operation at the well site, both from the contractor as well as from OIL,” it said.

Among several instances it referred to, the report said “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. It noted that while OIL started operations in Baghjan Well No 5 in November 2006, the clearance was not sought until November 2007 — it was granted only in 2011.

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.

Set up under former Gauhati High Court judge B P Katakey on July 2, the Committee of Experts submitted its preliminary report to the NGT on July 24.

According to the report, 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.”

The well continues to remain on fire since the explosion on June 9 after the blowout, which has displaced more than 9,000 people from their homes into 10 relief camps. The report 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.

“The impact assessment report of the WII (Wildlife Institute of India) states that high levels of carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons pollutants, which have been found in the ecosystem surrounding the site of incident, will eventually percolate into the ground and even contaminate the groundwater,” the report warned.

The committee has recommended interim compensation to the affected families: Rs 25 lakh for houses that were completely destroyed, Rs 10 lakh for those severely damaged, and Rs 2.5 lakh for those moderately damaged.

Meanwhile, in an update on the blowout posted on its official Twitter account Tuesday, OIL listed various measures that were “in progress” under “Environment Impact Assessment” and “preparation for capping the well”. It also said that a “survey for assessment of damage for compensation….is in progress”, and that 2,258 families had been surveyed till July 27.

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