Baghjan Inferno – A threat to Economy, Human health and Biodiversity

The massive inferno at Baghjan oil well in Assam’s Tinsukia, a major industrial disaster which is unfolding right now. Raging flames engulfing the Baghjan oil field, where a gas leak happening since the last two weeks has finally resulted in this. It, unfortunately, claimed the lives of two firefighters, one of them a former national footballer. The fire has caused massive damage to surrounding biodiversity.

The ‘Maguri Motapung Wetland’ – an important bird and biodiversity area since 1996, is just 500 meters away from the damaged oil well, while the 340 sq km Dibru Saikhuwa National park is 800 m from the site, which hosted 80 fish and 300 bird species every year-has been completely destroyed, with the Dibru river that cuts through it full of dead fish and even river dolphins.

Meanwhile, falling oil condensate is posing a serious threat to biodiversity at the national park. Often such industrial accidents ignore habitat destruction and focus solely on compensating affected people. But as the current COVID-19 pandemic and increasingly extreme weather phenomena show unbridled destruction of the environment can have serious long-term consequences.

All uncontrolled fires produce smoke and can release fumes that are harmful to breathe. Examples of compounds produced when plants are burned include toxic volatile organic species, Carbon Monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It can lead to more toxic emissions.

By creating a smoky haze, fires reduce the amount of solar radiation that can penetrate to the ground. As the sun’s rays bounce off the smoke, they increase heat in the atmosphere and hamper the productivity of natural lands as well as agricultural lands. The economical politics of upper Assam revolves around cash-rich companies like OIL (Oil India Limited) – the nature of the oil and gas industry was one of the triggers of the Assam agitation four decades ago. Public safety and sensitivity to the local environment have to be an integral part of its managerial vision. Shall not we appeal to the government and all the relevant bodies that the maximum safety and wellbeing of the surrounding villages are ensured? I don’t even have a language and my heart cries to see the villagers, who are spending sleepless nights in the relief camp amid the COVID-19 restrictions. Is this the negligence of OIL? A lot to answer for.

Eco-sensitive zone of birds, dolphins, fishes, and other animals are being burnt down. Agriculture, fishing, and animal rearing are the main occupation of most people in this area.

But now because of the oil spill, the land will become infertile and no farming will be possible for many years. While Baghjan has been the most affected by the blowout due to its proximity to the well, villages located further downstream like Notungaon, milanpur, hatibagh, bebejia, and barekuri have also suffered. Droplets of condensate have reportedly spread up to a radius of 5 km, falling on trees, tea gardens, grasslands, water bodies, and the roof of houses.

Here aspects of extraction, development, growth are so deeply intertwisted, that the challenges are to extricate aspects like sustainability and community wellbeing from the large complex. Baghjan just showed us how gruesome and treacherous it is.



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