Lawmakers demand immediate halt to spills in oil facilities

Shell Bonga Field... Photo Credit:Global Post

The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) and its counterpart on Environment and Ecology have said that multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria must work with the relevant regulatory authorities in the industry to curtail further spill incidents in offshore oil facilities.

Chairmen of the Committees, Magnus Abbe, and Bukola Saraki, who spoke in separate interviews in Abuja, said this was necessary to avoid incidents with more devastating consequences to the environment and the people.

The lawmakers spoke against the background of the massive spill  from the Bonga offshore oil field, which the Director General, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Peter Idabor, says might be Nigeria’s biggest pollution in more than a decade.

The incident, which occurred on Dec. 20 in the 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity Bonga facility, located about 120 kilometres off Nigeria’s waters, during a routine operation to transfer crude oil from the field’s floating production, storage and off-loading (FPSO) vessel to a waiting oil tanker, has so far spread to about 185 kilometres of the ocean close to Nigeria’s coastal areas.

Though Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC) says about 50 percent of the 40,000 barrels of crude that leaked from the offshore facility has dispersed into the air, NOSDRA said aerial inspection of the affected area showed that wind is gradually blowing the oil towards the country’s coastal areas and the impact might be felt in a matter of days. 

Mr. Abbe said the incident calls for an immediate review of the operational standards in the industry, pointing out that if nothing is done in that direction, the incident might be a child’s play compared to what might happen in future. 

For Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), the Shell subsidiary operating yje facility on behalf of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in partnership with Eni, ExxonMobil, and Total, Mr. Saraki said it must be prepared to take prompt steps to ensure that adequate compensation is paid to Nigerians affected by the incident.

Mr. Saraki decried the  lack of essential equipment and logistics by agencies responsible for the protection of the environment, particularly in difficult  offshore locations, saying a situation where the relevant agencies rely almost entirely on the oil companies for equipment, logistics and information control is not healthy for effective independent monitoring, assessment, and quick response during emergencies as well as enforcement of operational standards.

But, SPDC’s spokesperson, Tony Okonedo, said in an update last night, that the facility had  been shut down to curtail further spillage, while steps had been taken to ensure that up to 50 percent of oil has dissipated due to natural dispersion and evaporation.

Though he said the satellite pictures have shown the overall area covered by the sheen is less than a hundredth of a millimeter in most areas, Mr. Okonedo said the company is using dispersants to break up the oil sheen at sea.
“We have carried out helicopter flights over the affected area,” Mr. Okonedo said. “To accelerate the clean-up at sea, we are deploying vessels with dispersants to break up the oil sheen at sea.

“We are mobilising airplanes that will support the vessels in this operation. We are deploying infra-red equipment to be able to trace the few areas where the sheen may be thicker. That allows for a targeted use of the dispersant. Let me also mention that we are currently working with the Nigerian government to inform local communities and fishermen about the situation.”

Though Shell claimed  less than 40,000 barrels of oil leaked into the sea in total, the country’s oil spill detection agency believe the incident might turn out to be thrice more than the company admitted.

“Since a similar incident in 1998 involving Mobil’s facility, this is potentially a major incident that is likely to affect the environment and the people for a long time,” Mr. Idabor said. 

On efforts to help contend the situation, he said his agency had mobilized other environmental agencies to work with the management of Shell to deploy oil booms and chemical dispersants to remove spill.

Bonga, located about 120 kilometers offshore Nigeria, has a production capacity of about 200,000 barrels of oil and 150 million standard cubic feet of gas per day.  

Shell, which accounts for more than half of Nigeria’s total oil and gas production capacity, with production facilities spreading across most parts of the Niger Delta region, has always been held responsible for several of oil spills in the area.  

A United Nations environmental assessment report last August said uncleaned spills from Shell’s operations over the years had devastated farmlands and waters in Ogoniland in Rivers state, demanding the payment of several million dollar compensation to the people.

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