Centre plans ‘Heavy’ penalty on OIL for environmental damage
A senior government official told ET that it is based on this and more comprehensive assessments that will follow that OIL will likely to be asked to pay considerably in damages
NEW DELHI: The Centre is likely to impose ‘heavy’ costs on Oil India Limited (OIL) as compensation for the extensive environmental damage caused by an oil well blowout in Assam last month, with preliminary assessments indicating serious negligence and laxity on the part of the company.
The National Green Tribunal also stepped in on Thursday to impose an interim penalty of Rs 25 crore on the public sector oil company for failure to control the fire. It has also set up a committee headed by former high court judge B P Katakey to look into the matter and submit a report in 30 days.
The PSU is, however, likely to end up paying much more given the extent of damage and reports of oil spillage in the biodiversity-rich area around the oil field. According to estimates, it will take nearly a month to restore the Baghjan oil well site alone and the 1.5 km area surrounding it.
The extent of the environmental damage caused in the adjoining area of Tinsukia district will only be fully assessed thereafter. A senior government official told ET that it is based on this and more comprehensive assessments that will follow that OIL will likely to be asked to pay considerably in damages.
“OIL will have to be asked to pay towards the environmental damage caused, which even at first glance, is considerable”, the official said.
The oil fields stand close to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the wetlands of Maguri-Motapung, besides forested villages. ET gathers that prima facie assessments shared with the Union environment ministry by the Assam Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board indicate that the process involving encasing the ‘blow out preventer’ on top of Baghjan oil well 5 — encased in the cement plug — was not carried out as it should have been.
The negligence in the exercise allegedly led to a gas leak on May 27 which could not be controlled despite ONGC and Singapore experts being called in. Within a fortnight, the gas leak resulted in a major fire by June 9, forcing the evacuation of thousands of inhabitants besides destruction of flora and fauna.
OIL has so far said that the well caught fire while clearing operations were going on. OIL also lost two of its firemen in the process.
OIL had outsourced the operation of the oil well to a private operator and is said to have suspended two of its officials and shot off a show cause notice to the operator, John Energy Pvt Ltd.
Doubts are also being raised over whether OIL had full environmental clearances for running the oil wells and if it was following due environmental norms. The Assam Pollution Control Board has accused OIL of violating norms and has even threatened to shut down the Baghjan oil field – an issue that is fast becoming contentious.