by Suraj Gogoi

What is a condensate?

We often come across many complaints of petrol and diesel being adulterated. Condensate, also known as gasoline, is one of the substances which is used to adulterate these petrochemicals. It is also used to make plastic. Condensate is a high pressure gas which is found in its pure form inside the earth. It is very volatile and highly inflammable. When the gas comes out of the surface, any dip in temperature can turn it into liquid form and settles on top of anything that it falls. Its effects on land and water are different. The moment it touches the water surface, it settles on top of the water as its density is lighter than water. In other words, its state is determined by the temperature and pressure it is found in. In its liquid form it is primarily transparent and almost odorless. Russia, Middle East and US and recently Australia are its major suppliers.

Why condensate?

Think of a hot summer afternoon and you bought a water bottle from a shop which was kept in a fridge. After a while, water particles start to appear on the surface of the plastic bottle. That process is nothing but called condensation. Similarly condensate remains in a gaseous form below the surface of the earth due to the presence of a high heat environment. Once that comes out in the event of a blowout, it rushes through the air with tremendous force. Once it comes into contact with air like those droplets in the water bottle, the gaseous condensate turns into small water particles and starts to fall down to the surface of the earth like mist in a winter morning. Because of its physical property of condensing it is known as condensate. Slowly the condensate accumulates on the earth and because it is lighter than water in its density it settles on top of the water. This is what was burning in baghjan in all likelihood and those images that were shared yesterday. 

How dangerous is condensate? 

Condensate is a fossil fuel, a part of natural hydrocarbons which contains many toxicants and carries the ability to harm the environment and all life forms. Some of its immediate effects at the face of a blowout (like it happened in Baghjan Oil India Limited extraction site) can cause explosions covering a large area, displace oxygen and carry threats of asphyxiation and anaesthetization in a matter of seconds. After the explosion and because the gas leak was continuing since the 27th of May, the condensate and natural gas might have covered a large tract of area and the moment it caught fire, the ring of fire spread in no time to a large radius. A simple explanation of a gas stove can come handy here. Imagine you have switched on the nozzle to light a LPG cooking gas cylinder, now if the lighter doesn’t burn in a few trails and if it does after a few seconds the fire is generally large and loud. Now, it is to be noted here that the gas cylinder burner nozzle is about 7-8 mm in size. As compared to that the size of the oil extraction pipe carries a standard diameter of 5.5 inch or about 139.7 mm. Imagine a gas nozzle being open for a duration of 12-13 days and whose size is 16-17 times larger in size. A sudden spark can mean the entire gas filled area to be burnt out in an instant, also remember that it is almost odorless. You won’t even know of its presence. This is only the condensate we are talking about here, there is natural gas in the picture as well. Condensate is much more difficult to control than heavier oils as it moves and breaks easily as compared to oils like diesel and petrol. 

How is it related to Baghjan blowout?

The ‘oil spillage’ and burning images of water and in Maguri beel we have been seeing is nothing but burning of the condensate. Scientist Prodip Kumar Saikia was quoted in a Time8 report. Saikia “The Baghjan incident is a scientific failure, not technical. The Baghjan oil well, where the present blowout has happened, was never a gas well; rather it was a condensate well. I stressed it way back in 2005. However, the Oil authority ignored the report.” 

Knowing the volatility of the gas we are dealing with, it will be highly appropriate to maintain a relative distance from the site and for sure not enter the area of the burn site, in places where fire has subsided. 

The heat generated by the blowout fire can burn metals up-to 1 kilometer radius, apart from the fire heating up the area in general which will be a death blow to all kinds of vegetation and animals in a large swath of area. 

To learn more about the toxicity of the condensate: Read this following document which is put up by a company who engages in selling it! Here.

*Suraj is a member of the Pangsau Collective.