Guwahati: Efforts to plug a blowout of an Oil India Limited (OIL)-operated natural gas well in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, which has been on fire since June 9, suffered a setback on Wednesday afternoon, when three foreign experts sustained burn injuries while working on controlling the blaze.
The gas well located at Baghjan had witnessed a blowout – an uncontrolled release of gas or oil – on May 27 and caught fire on March 9, when two firefighters were killed and destroyed at least 13 adjoining houses.
“There was no blast at the site as being reported. The foreign experts working at the site sustained minor burn injuries while trying to cap the well. They are all out of danger,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson, OIL.
Officials said the incident took place, when the foreign experts, hired by OIL, were removing a spool from the well-head — a task carried out before installing a blowout preventer (BOP) to cap the fire and blowout.
Work at the site was called off on Wednesday following the incident.
The injured experts have been identified as Anthony Steven Reynolds, Craig Neil Duncan, and Doug Dallas, who work for Alert Disaster Control, a Singapore-based firm engaged by OIL in plugging the blowout.
“Initially, the injured received first-aid by a doctor at the well site and later they were taken to the burn unit section of Astha Nursing Home in Dibrugarh. They were released after their burn injuries were attended to. The operations are likely to resume at Baghjan on Thursday,” OIL said in a statement.
Work on capping the well was at an advanced stage, when the incident occurred on Thursday.
OIL authorities said critical tasks such as excavation of ramps and cellar have been completed, and the process of capping the well, including installation of water pumps, is ready.
“Constant water umbrella, dewatering of ramp/cellar works were being carried out to provide a safe working space for personnel (involved in capping the well),” the OIL statement added.
Union petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan took stock of the situation and wished speedy recovery of the three foreign experts, who sustained burn injuries.
“The well-control operation continues and capping of the well is expected shortly,” OIL tweeted.
The well had a blowout during a workover operation, or major maintenance work, to extract gas from a new depth.
While efforts were underway to control the blowout, the well caught fire and damaged 13 adjoining houses. Around 2,000 families were evacuated from the area and many of them are still living in relief camps.
Though OIL had initially stated that the blowout/fire would be plugged in a month, there has been a delay in meeting the deadline due to heavy rains and flooding in the low-lying area, which has affected work for several days.
The well is located close to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) and the ecologically-sensitive Maguri Motapung wetland, raising fears of environmental damage to the vicinity.
Several studies by different agencies are underway to measure the extent of the damage.
In June, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered the formation of an expert committee to probe the blowout and subsequent fire and assess the damage caused to human life, wildlife, and the environment because of the industrial disaster.