Assam: 2 firefighters killed in OIL well fire

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Two infernos that engulfed a natural gas well of Oil India Limited (OIL) in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district on June 9 afternoon claimed the lives of two firefighters, who were among four reportedly missing after the disaster struck.

The well at Baghjan near the ecologically fragile Dibru-Saikhowa National Park caught fire at 1:14 pm on Tuesday, 13 days after a blowout – uncontrolled escape of crude oil or gas due to machine failure – on May 27.

Also read: OIL appoints consultant to study environmental impact of gas well blowout in Assam

The cause of the deaths was said to be drowning after the two, both employees of OIL, jumped into a pond to avoid the flames. Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force recovered their bodies after drones used by the Assam Forest Department located them on June 10 morning.

They were identified as Durlov Gogoi and Tikheswar Gohain of OIL’s firefighting unit.

“We lost two of our men today [June 10]. The cause of death as of now for lack of forensic is drowning in the pond beside the well. It could be suffocation too because of gas around,” OIL officer Tridib Hazarika told The Hindu.

Also read: OIL may bring in U.S. experts to contain gas well blowout in Assam

PM offers help

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal grieved the death of the two OIL employees “out of the four missing personnel working at the oil well”. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured all help for the people in the affected area.

Locals said the fire that expanded horizontally after “erupting like a volcano” destroyed 50 houses. Tinsukia district officials said the claim was being verified.

A statement from OIL said compensation was being disbursed to the families of the two OIL employees while medial help was being ensured for four firefighters – two from OIL and one each from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited and a contractor – who sustained injuries in the fire.

“After the [fire] incident, affected people in the surrounding areas have been accommodated at 12 relief camps at a safe distance with the help of the district administration and arrangement for food and other basic needs have been made,” the statement said.

Four more weeks to cap

OIL officials said the fire was brought “under control to a great extent” on Wednesday with multiple agencies at work. The blowout would take four more weeks to cap after the fire is completely doused, they noted.

The well had caught fire a day after three disaster control experts from a Singapore-based firm arrived in a special flight to help contain the well. The trio, OIL officials said, had handled blowouts across 125 countries.

OIL had issued a show-cause notice to the Gujarat-based firm that was outsourced the job of exploration and production at the Baghjan well. The blowout happened when they tried to extract gas from a depth of 3,729 metres instead of the depth they had been extracting from.

Police complaint

An environment activist in eastern Assam’s Golaghat has filed a police complaint against OIL for “criminal negligence” by not ensuring blowout prevention arrangements at the well.

Green groups and locals said the blowout and resultant release of gas and condensates have destroyed flora and fauna around the well, particularly the Maguri-Motapung wetland. Some 1,610 families of the villages around the well have been evacuated to relief camps beyond 1.5 km radius of the well.

OIL had a few days ago announced an immediate compensation of Rs. 30,000 per affected family.

One victim was a footballer who played for Assam

Durlov Gogoi, the younger of the two slain Oil India Limited (OIL) firefighters, was a footballer who represented the Assam junior team once.

His designation was assistant operator in OIL’s firefighting unit, same as that of Tikheswar Gohain, who also lost his life.

Gogoi was from Namrup, an industrial town in Dibrugarh district known for a fertilizer plant and a thermal power station.

“He was a regular in the OIL team and played in a few inter-district tournaments at the junior level. He also represented Assam’s junior team in 1996-97, but was overshadowed by Jitu Chhetri, who was the preferred goalkeeper in the State team and went on to play for Kolkata club Mohun Bagan,” Guwahati-based senior sports journalist Subodh Malla Baruah said.

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