Oil leakage sets Assam river ablaze, authorities say now under control

It is unclear how long the river, which is a tributary of the Brahmaputra, was ablaze. However, on Monday afternoon OIL authorities confirmed that the fire had extinguished itself after burning for a few “hours”.

Upper Assam’s Buri Dihing river caught fire following a crude oil spill from an Oil India Limited (OIL) pipeline in the area. Images of the raging fire — reportedly in the Sasoni area near Naharkatiya town in Dibrugarh district — have been circulating on social media since. It is unclear how long the river, which is a tributary of the Brahmaputra, was ablaze. However, on Monday afternoon, OIL authorities have confirmed that the fire extinguished by itself after burning for a few “hours”.

“No casualty has been reported,” confirmed Dibrugarh SP Sreejith T, adding that the OIL had said a “technical glitch” caused the spillage on January 28.

A press release from OIL, headquartered in Duliajan, states that the problem originated in OIL’s Central Tank Farm in Duliajan.
According to the statement, there was a “sudden closure of remote operated shut off valves & motor operator valves of inlets and outlets of all the Crude Oil Storage Tanks” leading to a “pressure build-up”. This resulted in several leaks in the delivery pipelines. The incident occurred around 10.30 am on January 28.

“Somehow, probably the next day, the oil managed to trickle into the Buri Dihing river. It appears that some miscreants set fire to oil floating on the river,” said Tridiv Hazarika, spokesperson of OIL, adding that by the time they reached, the fire had extinguished by itself. He added that they had received “one-two” reports of smaller fires on Monday too.

Incidents of pipeline leakages have happened in the past, said Hazarika. “Human intervention is the prime reason but sometimes it happens by the freak of nature too,” he said.

Both concealed and exposed pipelines crisscross Sasoni, which is the location of independent India’s first oil discovery in 1953 and lies near the town of Naharkatiya. In 1959, OIL was set up to develop the newly discovered oil fields of Naharkatiya and Moran in Upper Assam.

Local residents allege that there have been many cases where such natural gas pipelines have been “punctured” by miscreants. “This is to access a condensed form of the gas called ‘condensate’ which is a cheap substitute for petrol. This is often illegally sold in the  markets at lower prices,” said a resident of Sasoni, a cluster of 75 villages.

While OIL’s Hazarika agreed that this was a “perennial problem” of the oil industry, he said the fire had nothing to do with that. “This is our internal technical problem but it is under control now,” said Hazarika. “Immediate action was taken up to rectify the leakages…,” stated the release. An inquiry committee has been set up to find out the root causes of the incident.

A joint team led by Circle Officer of Tengakhat Circle, Dibrugarh district, State Pollution Control Board, fishery department and experts from OIL are currently accessing the environmental damage to the river. “There is no hiding the fact that any crude oil that comes out and goes into water bodies will result in environmental damage,” he said, “So we are trying to salvage the situation by mopping and cleaning the spill in areas where it remains.”

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