Three weeks after a pipeline explosion in Nembe, Bayelsa State, which led to oil spillage across 45 communities in the South-South Nigerian state, the federal government, on Wednessday, said it was yet to establish the cause of the eruption. It frowned on speculations that the explosion might be an act of sabotage.
The federal government also denied reports that the country lost over 200,000 barrels of oil to the spillage, which had not been contained since the explosion on November 1.
Director General/Chief Executive Officer, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, who spoke on Wednesday on ARISE “Morning Show,” said no one has been able to access the wellhead to determine what exactly happened.
A delegation sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to assess the oil spill at the Santa Barbara, South-west oilfield on Wednesday promised to ensure speedy redress of the situation.
Similarly, Halliburton Co., one of the world’s largest oil services companies, confirmed that one of its units had been hired to help seal a wellhead that had been spewing its contents for several weeks in the Niger Delta.
Musa said the rescue teams on ground had so far recovered 4,105 barrels of oil since the Nembe oil spill began.
According to him, “It is absolutely wrong and preposterous for people to make false speculations over the oil spillage in Nembe communities of Bayelsa State. As I speak, nobody has been able to reach the oil wellhead, where the flow is coming from.
“The best that was achieved by the joint investigation teams was to get close to the source, but nobody has been able to reach the actual source of the flow. It is only when the team will be able to reach the source that they can determine the possible cause of the oil spill. It is only when they get to the source of the leakage that they will know whether the leakage was caused by broken pipe or corrosive pipe or loosed nuts.”
He insisted that the cause of the oil spill could only be verified by facts and not by speculations and simulations.
“So the cause of the oil spill is unknown at the moment, until a time when we are able to get to the source, which is the actual oil wellhead from where the leakage is coming from,” Musa said.
Musa also said, “One can only estimate the volume of oil that can be produced from any given oil wellhead when such oil wellhead is active and operational, but it is not possible to estimate the volume of loss of oil from an oil well, when there is leakage.
“It is wrong for people to use simulation method to determine loss of oil from a leaked oil well. We must talk about facts.
“The truth of the matter is that the oil wellhead has been abandoned for years and cannot therefore be compared to oil wellhead that is active and operational.
“It is wrong to project that 200,000 barrels of oil have been lost since November 1, 2021, when the spill started. From the on-going recovery process, about 4, 105 barrels of oil have been recovered as at Tuesday this week, which is based on eight hours working time on a daily basis since the spill started, but that is not to say that was the total oil that spilled so far.”
He further said, “It is not the responsibility of NOSDRA to regulate abandoned oil wellheads, because it is under the regulation of the Nigerian Offstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission. The commission had a number of times, planned to decommission abandoned oil wells, but they still surface.”
He, however, said the concern of government now was not the volume of oil loss, but the communities that the oil spill was affecting.
“Government is aware that the rivers and streams where the oil is flowing into will likely affect the lives of the living creatures in the rivers and streams, including the trees, and the rivers and streams are sources of livelihood for the community,” Musa added.
Reacting to claims that NOSDRA had not been in control of the area since the oil spill started on November 1, Musa said, “I want to correct the erroneous notion that NOSDRA has been incapacitated and has not done anything since the oil spillage on November 1, 2021. When the oil spill started, it was immediately reported and NOSDRA has been on the matter right from the onset.
“The Nembe oil spill is a different one from what had been happening in the past, because the initial joint investigation team that visited the scene, which NOSDRA was part of, could not access the oil well from where the spill is coming from, because of the magnitude of the force of the flow of oil, which has stretched out into several communities in the state.”
Musa said the first thing NOSDRA did was to ask the oil company to begin oil recovery process, since the oil spill could not be stopped immediately. He said it was later discovered that Nigerian engineers could not stop the oil spillage, which compelled government to contact international oil companies to come and help stop the flow. He added that it took some process and time, which caused some delay in addressing the situation.
Going forward, Musa said Nigeria needed to develop local human capacity that could handle such disaster.
He stated, “The reason is to avoid delay in addressing future occurrence. For instance, the international oil experts that were contacted came and surveyed the area and returned back to analyse their findings. They just returned, and this has caused a lot of delay in stopping the oil leakage. With the return of the oil exploration experts, operations to stop the oil flow from its source started yesterday and by the time it is addressed, we will begin the remediation and recovery processes.”
Meanwhile, a federal government delegation led by Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, which visited communities affected by the spillage, told the people of Nembe that the president was seriously concerned about the leak and had instructed relevant government agencies to take appropriate actions to bring the situation under control.
During the on-the-spot assessment, which was meant to get a first-hand account of the magnitude of the spillage that occurred at an Aiteo Eastern Exploration Company (AEEPCO) facility in the area, Sylva lamented the incessant degradation of the Niger Delta environment.
The minister was joined on the inspection by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Engr Gbenga Komolafe; the traditional ruler of Opu-Nembe Kingdom, His Royal Highness King Biobelemoye Josiah; and House of Representatives member representing Brass/Nembe Constituency, Mr. Israel Adi.
Sylva said, “Mr President is very concerned about the spill, that is why he sent me to come and have on the spot assessment of the situation. He feels the pains of the people and wants urgent steps taken to address the problem.”
The minister noted that the spill was a serious environmental concern that needed urgent measures to contain, noting that the government would do all within its powers to tackle the environmental problem.
“So much damage has been done to the environment in the Niger Delta and the government is very much concerned about this situation and would not allow further degradation of the environment, that why the government will take urgent measures to tackle the situation,” he said.
He disclosed that the relevant agencies had already been deployed in the area to tackle the oil spill adding, “We will need to bring in support to help us clean up the spill.”
Addressing the Basambri community after inspecting the spill site, Sylva said it was important for him to come to see things for himself to ensure that there was no problem between the oil company and the community.
He conveyed the president’s regrets over the spill and noted, “President Buhari will ensure that the situation is immediately remediated.”
Addressing the community, Komolafe said they were in Basambri on the instructions of the president to see things for themselves. He noted that as regulators in the upstream sector of the economy, the commission would ensure that operators operate within acceptable international standards that will impact positively on the lives of the people in the oil producing communities.
Aiteo on November 5 reported a major oil leak from its Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29, in Nembe.
Aiteo acquired the Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 following the 2015 divestment by Shell. The well was acquired for $2.4 billion and consists of the 97km Nembe Creek trunk line, which evacuates crude from onshore oil wells within the oil bloc and other operators to Bonny Export Terminal.
Aiteo, in a statement signed by its Media Contact, Mr Matthew Ndiana, explained that aside urgent possible technical responses to contain the leak, it had sought the collaboration of Clean Nigeria Associates (CNA), which had since mobilised to site.
While pointing out that the company had deployed its internal resources to reinforce containment and recovery efforts, Aiteo said that “well killing” assessment site visit had been carried out to evaluate the assets and earmark the resources required to bring the effusion under control.
In a related development, Halliburton, the Houston-based firm’s Boots & Coots unit, has been called in by independent producer Aiteo Eastern E&P Co., to contain the leak from a non-producing well in the southern Bayelsa State, a spokeswoman confirmed to Bloomberg by email yesterday.
Oil has been leaking “under high pressure” since November 1, according to a statement yesterday, by Nigerian advocacy group, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), which visited the site on Sunday.
The rupture on the field located in mangrove forests has been releasing crude into the surrounding river, and fumes into the air.
The field produced about 27,000 barrels per day in 2020, according to information published by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The output, which had dropped to about 9,500 barrels a day by July, is transported via a pipeline to Shell’s Bonny export terminal.
Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos and Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja