A special chartered fight that took off from Singapore on Thursday afternoon had an unusual destination in India — Dibrugarh Airport in Assam. The flight had a team of experts from Alert Disaster Control, one of the largest disaster management companies in the oil and gas sector.
Amid Covid-19 restrictions it needed special permission from the governments of both countries to carry the team for a special mission — to stop one of the biggest blowouts (uncontrolled emission of natural gas) in the history of India’s hydrocarbon exploration.
On May 27, a producing well by Oil India Ltd (OIL) at the Baghjan oilfield in Tinsukia became active while work-over operations were on, leading to an uncontrolled release of natural gas. With the expert team landing in India, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and OIL expect the blowout to stop by early next week (Sunday or Monday).
A solution to the blowout is considered vital for around 1,610 families, which have been evacuated from nearby affected areas. “Arrangements are being made to control the blowout in accordance with the plan chalked out by the crisis management team (CMT), ONGC and OIL. It is expected that an attempt to cap the well will be made within two to three days,” said Sushil Chandra Mishra, chairman and managing director, OIL. The Baghjan field is within striking distance of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, the Maguri-Motapung wetlands, and the forest villages of Barekuri, and is considered to be a habitat of the hoolock gibbon and Gangetic dolphins. Hence, there is concern regarding its impact on biodiversity.
OIL has appointed ERM India for an environment impact assessment on the project. The firm is of the view that since there is no oil spill or fire, it will be having only a minimal or no environmental impact. “The gas in Baghjan 5 is flowing with high pressure. Most of the gas gets dispersed in the atmosphere at a height, thereby minimising the risk of the gas spreading at ground level. In accordance with the existing test records in the field, there is no evidence of the presence of sulphur in the natural gas. The gas is considered non-poisonous,” Mishra said.
However, condensate has been deposited within 600 metres of the well. However, the firm claims that initial studies are not showing any damage to biodiversity in the region. In order to minimise the chances of fire, pumping water into the well through the casing valve is in progress to cool the flowing gas. The well was producing 100,000 standard cubic metres of gas per day from a depth of 3,870 metres.
In 2019-20, OIL had produced 2,668 million metric standard cubic metres (MMSCM) of natural gas and 3.1 million tonnes (MT) of crude oil. The Pasarlapudi blowout in January 1995 is the biggest in the history of the country’s oil and natural gas exploration with fire continuing for more than two months. When asked about the impact of the fire on the company’s production, Mishra said: “Change in the production profile, if any, can be assessed only after a detailed testing of the wells and recording of reservoir behaviour post control of the blowout.”