The fire at Oil India Limited’s oilfield in Assam’s Baghjan, which raged for months, has resulted in a severe loss of biodiversity in the area, apart from the economic losses.
The gas blowout in Tinsukia district last year has caused an estimated loss of over Rs 25,000 crore and destroyed around 55 per cent of the biodiversity in the area, an inquiry report prepared by a senior forest official said.
The report titled ‘Ecology and Economy: Lessons Learnt from Baghjan Blowout’ has been prepared by state Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Chief Wildlife Warden M K Yadava.
25,825 animals killed
The report stated that 25,825 animals belonging to 41 genera or families, and 91 scheduled animals in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, including a Gangetic River Dolphin and two Hoolock Gibbons, were killed in the disaster. “Baghjan is a case of an ecological disaster and there are chances that, in an attempt to arrive at monetary valuations for all the losses, the route of ‘shadow pricing’ was adopted.
“In it, the cost of one item and the cost of other items for which price is not known can be subsumed and it was decided to list a very limited number of “countable” damages which can be directly and rationally arrived at,” the report said. The countable losses assessed in the report based on the above method estimated damages to the tune of Rs 25,050.61 crore and this can be realised over a period of 10 years.
Well no. 5 at Baghjan began to spew gas on May 27 last year, before exploding on June 9 and was finally killed on November 15. The incident resulted in the deaths of three persons. The condensate oil spread to a large area of 13.85 sq km, of which 7.97 sq km got burnt almost fully, 1.02 sq km got burnt partially and the secondary affected areas spread to 13.75 sq km, it said.
The Dibru-Saikhowa National Park got impacted to the extent of 12.07 sq km. In all, total wetland area of 16.32 sq km, grassland area of 5.23 sq km, rivers/streams 19.76 sq km and forest areas of 2.13 sq km got affected due to the disaster. The report also observed that the Baghjan blowout caused widespread burning, fire, sound, air and water pollution, vibrations and ground motion causing tremors in houses, drenching thousands of people, livestock and wildlife in black coloured ‘oil rain’ and causing stillbirth of uncounted numbers of livestock.
Soil contamination, damages to tea gardens
Above all, it resulted in the devastation of the Maguri Motapung Beel ecosystem and damages to the Dibru- Saikhowa National Park ecosystem, burning of grasslands, unbearable radiation of heat and strong blazing light. There have been damages to tea gardens, orchards, and fruit and vegetable gardens.
The soil has been contaminated with oil, grease and heavy metals and needs to be treated, while tea bushes need uprooting and output crop must be well-tested for harmful chemicals, the report said. The misery was further compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak and a series of flood waves, nine last year, it said.