Fire has reportedly spread to homes near well that has been leaking ‘uncontrollably’ for two weeks
A massive fire has broken out at an oil field in north-eastern India, after gas that had been leaking for two weeks ignited, sending plumes of smoke and flames into the sky, and reportedly setting fire to nearby homes.
Five deaths in the area are being investigated for potential links to the gas well, which has been leaking “uncontrollably” for two weeks, according to Oil India, the state-owned company managing the oil field.
The gas well at the oil field, in Baghjan in the Tinsukia district of Assam state, started leaking in late May, the company said.
Tuesday’s explosion sent bright orange flames and huge, black plumes of smoke high into the sky, visible 10km (six miles) from the oil field.
“While the clearing operations were on at the well site, the well caught fire,” Oil India said in a statement, adding that a firefighter suffered “minor injuries”.
About 200 engineers and workers – including a team of experts who arrived from Singapore on Monday – are trying to stem the leak within four weeks, the company said.
People living in neighbouring villages fled in fear, and said five of their homes had caught fire. “The situation is very bad. It is spreading. I knew it was going to happen,” local environmentalist Niranta Gohain said.
The company called for help from the army after local residents allegedly attacked its vehicles after Tuesday’s explosion, spokesman Tridiv Hazarika said.
Water has been pumped to the well over the past two weeks to prevent the gas catching fire.
Assam’s chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, said firefighters, police and the army were being sent to the site, which is 500km east of Guwahati, the state’s biggest city.
Environmentalists are increasingly worried about the impact of the gas leak.
The well was producing 100,000 standard cubic metres per day (SCMD) of gas from a depth of 3,870 metres before the blowout in May, according to Oil India.
Just a kilometre from the field is Maguri-Motapung wetlands, an ecotourism site. State-owned sanctuary Dibru Saikhowa national park – renowned for migratory birds – is about 2.5km away.
Authorities had established an exclusion zone of 1.5km and about 2,500 people had been evacuated from their homes.
Officials on Monday ordered an inquiry into the deaths of five people from the areas surrounding the field, although the district administration said a preliminary investigation suggested they died of natural causes.