How Assam’s Baghjan gas well blowout impacted lives, livelihoods and the environment

16 October 2020
On 9 June, a gas well in the Baghjan oil field in Assam's Tinsukia district caught fire.
Partha Sarothi Das / AP Photo
On 9 June, a gas well in the Baghjan oil field in Assam's Tinsukia district caught fire.
Partha Sarothi Das / AP Photo

On 27 May, a gas well in the Baghjan oil field, in Assam’s Tinsukia district, had a blowout, which refers to an uncontrollable gas leak. The well in question is operated by the state-owned Oil India Limited. Within two weeks, on 9 June, the well caught fire.

To date, three OIL employees have lost their lives while working on the site. On 10 June, OIL tweeted that two firefighters working with the company—Durlov Gogoi and Tikheshwar Gohain—had died “in the line of duty.” On 9 September, Arnab Kishore Bordoloi, an electrical engineer at OIL was electrocuted at the Baghjan well site. According to a PTI report, Bordoloi was working with high voltage cables. The same day, OIL tweeted, “Arnab Kishore Bordoloi, a dynamic young electrical engineer of OIL while working with some equipment at Baghjan Blowout well site, suddenly fell down and lost consciousness.” The tweet added, “He was provided emergency health care by doctor at site and was taken to AMC where he was declared dead,” referring to the Assam Medical College.

Arnab’s family has raised questions about his death. “They didn’t send a senior officer with him,” Arnab’s sister, Ananya, told me. She said that Arnab had only two years of experience, which was not enough to send him to what she believed was a danger zone at the site. 

Ananya told me that Arnab was selected to be part of the OIL team from a recruitment program at the Jorhat engineering college, in August 2018. “He surprised the family by calling us at midnight and telling us that he was one of the 14 who were selected from his college, we were all very excited,” she said.

On 12 September, Arnab’s family wrote a letter to Sushil Chandra Mishra, the chairman and managing director of OIL, seeking clarifications on the circumstances of Arnab’s death and asking six specific questions. Among them, the family sought to know what training Arnab had received to work in such dangerous conditions, if there was any standard operating procedure and if he was briefed about safety guidelines before he was sent to the site.

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Assam oil