Assam PCB Issues Closure Notice to OIL on Baghjan Oil Field Ops

In a major blow to Oil India Limited (OIL), the Pollution Control Board (PCB), Assam, has issued closure notice to OIL to "close down" all production and drilling operations of all the installations of Baghjan oilfield in Assam's Tinsukia district.

The development comes 24 days after OIL experienced a gas blowout at well number 5 in Baghjan Oilfield, in close vicinity of Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Motapung Beel, leaving natural gas and condensate oil gushing out in the open, displacing thousands of families besides leaving an adverse impact on the biodiversity of the region. Subsequently, the well caught fire on 9 June.

The order also comes within a month after receiving environment clearance by MoEF&CC for extender reach drilling (ERD) at seven locations under Dibru Saikhowa National Park, leaving environmentalists shocked.

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Confirming the development, PCB Assam chairman Y Suryanarayana said, the Baghjan oilfield was being operated without the 'consent to establish and consent to operate' permission from PCB, Assam. "We had issued a show cause notice to OIL on June 10 with 7 days' time to submit their reply."

"In their reply, OIL has sought more time and we are not satisfied, hence, we have issued closure notice directing OIL to close all production and drilling operation at Baghjan Oilfield immediately," Suryanarayana said, adding: "Earlier, OIL had approached for cluster permission, which we had refused, sighting that only individual permission will be given."

The closure order number WB/DIB/T-396/06-09/243, a copy of which has been accessed by this journalist, reads: It is mandatory to obtain prior permission / clearance from MoEF&CC as well as state PCB for production, drilling, pumping of crude oil and laying pipeline activities as per EIA notification, 2006 and various provisions under the Section 25/26 of the Water (Prevention of Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Section 21 of the Air (Prevention of Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Authorization under the Hazardous & other waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 as amended upto date.

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"It is observed that you have been operating your Baghjan oilfied activities without obtaining prior consent to Establish / consent to operate from PCB, Assam, which is a serious violation of the provisions of Water Act, 1974 and Air Act, 1981 as well as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986," the order addressed to the Resident Chief Engineer of OIL read.

In the order, PCB Assam has levelled a series of charges against the OIL including operation of Baghjan oilfield without Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP), operating drilling and production operations without being equipped with proper safety and precautionary measures for which often major accidents are occurred at the drill sites.

The order said that Baghjan oilfield is located just 500 metres to the Maguri Motapung wetland which is part of eco-sensitive zone of Dibru Saikhowa National Park which is affected severely due to negligence on OIL's part.

“OIL is destroying to aquatic life of the national park and the wetland of endangered species in the name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures.”

In the recent blowout and fire, PCB (Assam) has accused OIL of negligence and carelessness towards safety of people's life and environment and held OIL accountable for not submitting the annual report regularly under Section 9 of the Hazardous & other waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 which is a serious violation and liable to be punished under the law.

OIL chairman and managing director Sushil Chandra Mishra could not comment on the developments since he was in a meeting.

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Wishing anonymity, an official in OIL said, "If we need to shut down the operations at Baghjan oilfield it will not just impact gas supply close to 400 tea gardens of Assam partially, but will have a far reaching and direct impact on the gas based industries in upper Assam including Brahmaputra Cracker Polymer Limited (BCPL), NEEPCO among others and supply of crude oil to refineries in the state. "Severe power shortage will hit Assam."

"It may be noted that OIL is operating in Baghjan since 2001 and has fulfilled conditions set by PCB and MoEF&CC. PCB officials must have conducted audits of OIL’s compliance to PCB directives regularly," the source said and questioned" "Did it take an accident to wake the PCB, Assam, if we were operating by flouting rules or without permission?"

"OIL is approaching high court for legal remedies," another source in OIL added.

(This article has been republished in an arrangement with EastMojo.)

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