Nigeria’s federal government on Thursday announced that the OML 29 oil spill in Nembe, Bayelsa State, had been brought under control, with necessary personnel and equipment deployed to begin recovery and remediation efforts.
This came more than three weeks after the eruption that affected several communities in the state.
Minister of Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, who made disclosed the control of the spill at the weekly ministerial press briefing organised at the State House, Abuja.
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The unfortunate incident was said to have been brought under control after the Aiteo Eastern Exploration Company (AEEPCO) succeeded in mobilising heavy equipment to the site of the Santa Barbara wellhead leak, in what it described as a “well kill” operation.
Ikeazor likened the incident to the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima City in Japan, which was devastated when the Allied Forces dropped a bomb on it during the Second World War.
She explained, “The situation has been brought under control. I got a brief from the Director General, National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), who was out on the field. So, now, work has to start on the proper clean up.
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“So, is this something we must tackle head-on? We are beyond talking and having workshop. On the issue of penalties, I mentioned earlier the review of NOSDRA bill. You know most of the Acts we have passed years ago. You will see that they will give maybe N100 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute.”
Speaking on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY, yesterday, Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, who spoke about his visit to the host community for on the spot assessment of the impacted area, had assured that he would produce a report, after the inspection, which would be submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for immediate action.
Sylva, also disclosed that the federal government and Aiteo oil company had moved to contain the massive oil spill. He thanked the host community for their peaceful conduct.
Sylva stated, “The company, Aiteo, is making reasonable effort to contain the spill and ensure that the Christmas tree is repaired.
“We will produce a report that will be submitted to Mr. President. We want to thank the community for being peaceful and not taking the laws into their hands.”
Aiteo, in a telephone chat yesterday night, confirmed the leak had been contained, stating that the company has already embarked on measures to control the spillage, shutdown and kill the well.
THISDAY learnt yesterday that AEEPCO had as of last night fully mobilised to the site and had reinforced its efforts to put an end to the saga.
Videos of the operation sighted by THISDAY indicated that while the, “well kill” operation was going on, several barges carrying cranes and other equipment were on their way to the location to begin recovery of the hydrocarbons.
“These are pumping and stimulation equipment loaded with calcium fluoride for the well kill operation. To minimise down time, what we are doing is to arrange all key lines. We have begun work already. By the time this barges get there, the leak must have been arrested.
“So, it’s just for us to hook up the lines and the hoses into the well. We have cranes and at least three barges and with these, the spill will be contained in no time,” a source said.
In his remarks, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission, Mr. Gbenga Komolafe, assured that “the matter would be resolved in a way that will not negatively impact the area.”
Ikeazor stressed the need to put an end to artisanal refineries, which she said had continued to cause pollution in the Niger Delta. She also disclosed plans to institute stiffer penalty for companies involved in oil spill in the country, adding that the operating company is blaming locals for the latest incident in OML29, Nembe.
Ikeazor said the ministry was engaging other relevant government agencies to come up with stiffer punishments for erring oil multinationals.
She said, “I got briefings and what I saw in terms of the pollution either through oil refining or illegal oil refining and otherwise – the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive. As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.
“So, it is something that government needs to tackle head-on. I hope they would have put the picture on (slide show), it was like a Hiroshima site.”
The minister said a bill was being worked out to amend the law establishing NOSDRA to build its capacity and give it “the needed teeth to bite.”
She said the operating company of the OML29 in Nembe had blamed the most recent oil spillage in the country on sabotage by the locals.
According to her, something must be done about the on-going gas flaring
She said the country could not be committed to zero net emission and be flaring gas at the same time.
Ikeazor said, “On the Santa Babara Aiteo oil spills, you remember the Ministry of Environment issued a statement stating what happened and the action being taken. It’s a collective action between the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Environment, and the oil company involved.
“It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening.
“They are also claiming that the spill was due to sabotage by the local communities. We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment.
“We need to put stiffer penalties, build the capacity of NOSDRA, which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector, to be able to have the teeth to bite. Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they cannot do much. These are areas we are looking in to, it has to stop.
“Government is working on alternative livelihood for the communities so that we can move them away from illegal activities and further polluting of the environment.”
The minister also lamented the rate of deaths from smoke-induced illnesses, especially among women in the country, which is said to be the highest in the world. She said the federal government was hoping to reintroduce clean cookstove and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cookstove initiative to ameliorate the problem and protect the nation’s biodiversity.
On the Ogoni clean-up exercise, the minister noted that the work could not be completed in one or two years as she stressed the need to end artisanal refining of crude oil.
She stated, “We must accelerate also the Ogoni cleanup, to make sure that the remediation is completed in time for the good people of Ogoni. But at the same time, we must tackle the issue of artisanal refining because as we are cleaning, some are still polluting the environment and we ask that this must stop, for us to have a clean and decent environment.”