An Assamese oil spill threatens India’s natural biodiversity

indica News Bureau-


The Russian oil spill is deemed as one of the worst ecological catastrophes of the sort to ever hit that region. On May 29, a diesel-fuel tank at a power plant belonging to a mining group collapsed near the Siberian industrial city of Norilsk, sending some 15,000 tons of diesel into a nearby waterway.

While this event has been getting the attention of environmentalists across the world, a similar incident with a similar environmental disaster has occurred in a village in Assam, India. This occurrence however has strangely not received the reception and awareness it deserves.

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 the reported failure of the pressure control systems.

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.

In a statement endorsed by the individuals and organizations of Assam and Northeast, 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. Condensates settling on the skins of livestock have led to deep wounds. It is highly unlikely that the affected animals would survive.

From the surrounding villages and towns, more than 3000 people have been evacuated. The Dangori and Dibru Rivers are home to many highly endangered species including river dolphin, birds and fishes, and there is no escape for them, as the river has been on flames. Images of that has been circulating social media.

The dead carcass of a Gangetic river dolphin whose skin was peeled off has made rounds in social media. The condition of the dolphin is a testimony to the extent of the contamination and the dangers it carries.

OIL has failed completely to comply with conditions that were set in the environmental clearance it received in order to set up the drilling well in Baghjan that falls within the boundary of an eco-sensitive zone.

In the environment clearance issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), OIL was required to follow the provisions under many acts. However, at the Baghjan oil-well, the company did not follow the conditions under environment clearance.

Dibrugarh deputy commissioner Pallav Gopal Jha said, “The fire has already been controlled. The circle officer of Tengakhat revenue circle has visited the site and will soon give a report. Our primary concern is to minimize any environmental hazard. We will take the necessary steps after assessing the reports.”

The people of Baghjan and its nearby areas, who have been affected directly or indirectly by this oil spill, are currently staying in camps, hoping for immediate blocking of the leakage. This oil-spill poses direct threat to health, food availability and livelihood security in the area.