Threat to national park, wetlands after India gas well blowout


Guwahati (India) (AFP)

About 2,000 people have been evacuated from their homes as authorities struggle to control gas pouring from an exploded well near a popular ecotourism spot in northeastern India.

The gas well in an oil field managed by state-owned Oil India Ltd blew out last Wednesday in Tinsukia district of Assam state, and "started releasing natural gas in an uncontrolled manner", the company said.

Authorities have established an exclusion zone of 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) around the oil and gas field, Tinsukia deputy commissioner Bhaskar Pegu said.

Some locals complained of eye irritation and headaches, while one person was taken to hospital, officials said.

The carcass of a river dolphin and an unknown number of fish were found in a lake close to the area, environmentalists said. Officials were examining the dolphin to determine the cause of death.

Locals told AFP that nearby grasslands were affected by the leak. Dead snakes were found in the area and they were afraid condensate from the blowout would lead to the death of other wildlife.

Officials told AFP on Monday that the forest department was still assessing the impact on local wildlife.

Just one kilometre from the field is Maguri-Motapung wetlands, an ecotourism site. State-owned sanctuary Dibru Saikhowa National Park -- a biodiverse area renowned for migratory birds -- is about 2.5 kilometres away.

Oil India said in a statement Friday that the "well-being, health and safety" of locals was its top priority, and that it was "closely monitoring and... minimising" the environmental impact of the blowout.

The firm has yet to disclose how much has leaked from the well.

Chairman and managing Director Sushil Chandra Mishra said Oil India was "in discussion with foreign experts and will bring them to the site if necessary", the Press Trust of India reported.