2 dead as fire rages after Indian gas well explosion near eco-tourism sites

People walk behind cattle, as smoke rises after the natural gas well of Oil India Limited caught fire at Baghjan. (AP pic)

TINSUKIA: Two workers have been found dead near the site of a huge fire ignited by gas that has been spewing from an oil field in India for two weeks, officials said Wednesday.

A wall of flames and smoke continues to roar into the sky a day after the gas triggered an explosion at the well run by state-owned Oil India in the northeastern state of Assam.

“Unfortunately, we have lost two dedicated oilmen in the line of duty. Their bodies were found from the pond nearby,” Oil India spokesman Tridiv Hazarika told AFP.

Hazarika said the men were Oil India staff operating at the site as company firefighters and appeared to have jumped into the water at the time of Tuesday’s blast.

Another firefighter suffered minor injuries.

The military and national disaster response personnel along with around 200 engineers and workers – including experts from Singapore – are aiming to stem the leak within four weeks, Oil India said.

Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said he had briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation.

There has been no official statement on how much gas has escaped but the company said it was flowing “uncontrollably”.

The well was producing 100,000 standard cubic metres of gas per day from a depth of 3,870m before the blowout in late May, according to Oil India.

Concern is growing about the impact on the biodiverse Tinsukia region, which is home to several bird sanctuaries.

Just 1km from the well is Maguri-Motapung wetlands, an eco-tourism site. State-owned sanctuary Dibru Saikhowa National Park – an area known for migratory birds – is about 2.5km away.

Locals and environmentalists say gas condensate is covering the wetlands and nearby waterways, and that dead fish along with the carcass of a dolphin have been found.

A 1.5km exclusion zone has been created around the site of the blowout, with about 2,500 people evacuated from their homes.