OIL to move Gauhati HC against PCBA’s Baghjan oilfield closure notice

Guwahati/Dibrugarh, June 21 (PTI): PSU major Oil India Limited (OIL) on Sunday said it will move the Gauhati High Court, challenging the Assam pollution control board’s order to close all its production and drilling operations at the Baghjan oilfield in Tinsukia district.


The Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) issued a "closure notice" to the company on Friday, alleging that it violated environmental laws while operating at the oilfield.


However, the PSU major claimed that it had the "PCBA’s consent" for all its operations in the state.


"Oil India will move the Gauhati High Court on Monday for a stay of the closure notice, if we do not receive a favourable reply from the PCBA," OIL Spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika told PTI.


The company replied to a show-cause notice issued by the PCBA on Friday.


Hazarika alleged that the PCBA issued the closure notice on the same day without considering its reply.


"OIL had sent a detailed reply to the PCBA’s queries and subsequently, requested it to withdraw the closure notice. The company is expecting a favourable response," he said.


The well number 5 at Baghjan has been spewing gas "uncontrollably" for the last 26 days and it caught fire on June 9, killing two of the company’s firefighters at the site.


Following the accident, the PCBA sent the show-cause notice on June 10, seeking details of OIL’s operations for the last 15 years at Baghjan within a week.


"As the queries were related to operations for 15 years and all our senior officials were busy in controlling the Baghjan well, we sought some more time on June 18, which the PCBA rejected on the same day. So we sent our replies immediately on the next day," Hazarika said.


In its closure order issued on June 19, the PCBA mentioned that OIL had sought more time for replying to the show-cause notice, which was rejected by it.


"You are directed to close down all the production as well as drilling operations of all your installations of Baghjan oilfield forthwith and to take all necessary measures for extinguishing the fire/blowout of the well no. BGN-5," the PCBA member-secretary said in the notice.


The Baghjan oilfield has a total of 22 producing wells -- 18 for crude, four for gas. The oilfield has been in operation since 2003.


Asked about the allegations levelled by the PCBA in its notice, the company spokesperson said, "We approached the PCBA before carrying out every operation. Without taking the consent of the PCBA, OIL has not carried out any operation in Assam."


The PCBA has alleged that OIL has been "nonchalantly" violating the provisions of the law in force, causing pollution to the environment.


"It is observed that you have been operating your Baghjan oilfield activities without obtaining prior consent to establish/operate from PCBA, which is a serious violation of the provisions of Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981 as well as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986," the notice said.


The pollution control board also said it is mandatory to obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the state PCB as per the EIA Notification, 2006 and provisions of various related laws.


"You are operating your Baghjan oilfield installation without any effluent treatment plant. The Baghjan oilfield is just 500 metres to the Naguri-Motapung wetland, which is part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park which is affected severely due to the negligence from your end," the PCBA alleged in the notice served to OIL.


The pollution watchdog asked the energy major to take steps to prevent spillage of hazardous wastes into water bodies through designated drains and treatment facilities.


The company is supposed to install a blowout-prevention system according to the environment clearances given to it to avoid accidents during drilling, but it had failed to do that, the PCBA alleged further.


"You are destroying the aquatic life of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland of endangered species in the name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures.


"It is observed that you have been operating your production as well as drilling installations without being equipped with proper safety and precautionary measures for which often major accidents occur at the drill sites/production installations," the notice said.


The PCBA further accused OIL of "negligence and carelessness" towards the safety of people’s lives and properties in the neighbouring areas as well as towards protection of the environment in view of the accident.


"It is seen that you have not been submitting the annual report regularly under section 9 of the Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, which is a serious violation and liable to be punished under the law in force," the PCBA notice said.


Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting was held among the authorities of OIL, Tinsukia district administration and members of a youth organisation on Saturday to find ways to end the blockade.


The state-run company continues to face public ire over the incident and its production is getting affected in a big way due to bandh and blockades, Hazarika said.