The inferno which engulfed oil wells operated by Chevron Nigeria Limited in Ojumole communities in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State has continued unabated 32 days after it started.
While the Ondo State Government, community leaders and Chevron are battling to extinguish the fire, some communities from Delta and Ondo, said to be affected by the inferno, are locked in a battle of ownership of the lighted oil wells.
Although the crisis is yet to blow open, the communities sharing the boundaries where the wells are located, are contending over the wells in anticipation of possible compensations coming from the oil company.
It was initially believed that the oil well, located in Ilaje local government of Ondo State, belonged to it. But, Polobubo-Tsekelewu community in Warri North LGA of Delta State have made claims that it is home to the oil wells still on fire.
It claimed that the wells are part of the Ikpalapkala-Bou oil facility in the Ijaw community. It vowed to resist any attempt by Chevron to cede the facility to the Ojumale oil well in Ondo State.
The Delta community is threatening a showdown with the contending communities and the oil company.
At a recent meeting held in Warri, Delta State, the Polobubo-Tsekelewu National Council (PNC) noted that Chevron’s position was ‘provocative’ as its operations in the area was having adverse effects in the community.
Speaking through its National President, Ebilate Mac-Yoroki, the community urged the Delta State Government to back its claims on the oil wells and mount pressure on Chevron to put out the fire.
But the Ondo State communities are unrelenting over their claims of the oil wells.
They claimed that Ikorigho, Ojumole, Zion Ikorigho, Otumara, Ajegunle, Ilueri and Bowoto communities in Ilaje were impacted by the disaster.
But Chevron has since clarified that only one well is on fire and that is Ojumole Well 1 and it is located in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 49 in NNPC/Chevron Nigeria JV’s Western Niger Delta area of operations. It said this is supposedly plugged and idle with no flow line connected to it.
Leaders of the communities, led by Judah Akinyomi, said some people were parading themselves as leaders, but “were not the appointed leaders of the affected people, and therefore could not speak for them.”
“It is a sad thing that valuable assets, mostly owned by the people of Ilaje land and the environment, have been imperiled by the actions of a few greedy individuals who tampered with the idle well apparently to steal crude oil, thereby leading to this unfortunate fire incident,” he said.
They urged Chevron to ensure the fire was put out as soon as possible. They also called on the company to provide relief materials for the people in the communities destroyed by the fire.
PREMIUM TIMES however gathered that, in the face of the controversy, Chevron had been diplomatic in not making any categorical statement on where the well belongs.
It noted that it was not its duty to determine who owned the land on which the facility was located, and also distanced itself from reports it had ceded the facility to Ondo State.
Meanwhile, the Ondo State Government, in a statement , warned that it would not play politics with the lives of its citizens in Ilaje. It urged Chevron to be responsible in providing the needed materials in mitigating the impact of the fire.
The Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, also condemned Chevron for “engaging in obnoxious acts of divide and rule among the communities affected by the inferno.”
The governor noted that the state government had received several complaints from the communities within the Ojumole Oil Well against the committee put in place by Chevron.
“The State Government is aware of the antics of some of the Chevron’s top staffers, who are from Delta State, that are fanning the ember of discord between Ondo State and her neighbouring state, Delta, purposely for their selfish gains,” Mr Akeredolu said.
“There is no controversy over the ownership of Ojumole and Omuro Oil fields in Ilaje local government despite the moves of these top Chevron officers to fuel crisis between these communities by claiming Ojumole Oil field belongs to both Ondo and Delta States.”
Mr Akeredolu attributed the cause of the inferno to the negligence and failure of the oil company to secure the facility it abandoned since the Ijaw/Ilaje crisis of 1998.
He lamented that every attempt to make Chevron re-open the facility had proved abortive, “despite that the oil well is still very prolific and has the capacity to generate up to 10,000 barrels per day.”
The governor added that due to the abandonment of the oil well by the company, oil bunkering activities have been very persistent at the location and this has led to several incidences of vandalisatiom of the facility’s equipment and oil spillages/pollution.
It was however gathered that Chevron is playing safe so as not to cause communal crisis between the Ijaw of Polobubo in Delta State and Ilaje of Ondo State.
Meanwhile, the Ondo State House of Assembly had earlier summoned the company to appear before it to explain its inability to put out the fire promptly.
A six-man committee of the house is looking into the issue in order to find a solution.
Fire still raging- Chevron
Responding to PREMIUM TIMES inquiry on the development, Chevron’s Communications Manager, Adebawo Adesola, admitted that the oil well was still on fire, “but the company was engaging experts to help put out the fire.”
“Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) is currently working with Emergency Response contractors to safely put out the fire as quickly as possible,” Mr Adesola said.
“Due to the peculiar terrain of the well location, there is the need to create an access path to the slot leading to the well head. This will enable the heavy equipment and men required to safely put out the fire, gain access to the well location. We continue to keep all stakeholders, including the communities and regulatory agencies engaged on our efforts to put out the fire.”
He noted that the company was sensitive to the concerns to the affected communities and would do everything to ensure the safety and protection of the environment.
“A Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) to the site of the incident on Saturday April 20, 2019, by a team made up of regulatory agencies, community stakeholders and CNL, determined that the fire incident was caused by third-party interference. There were protective mechanical components and installed barriers on the well head, which were tampered with by illegal bunkerers,” he said.