*41 Bayelsa communities in dire straits
Port Harcourt – At least 41 communities and fishing settlements along the Santa Barbara River and Nembe creeks have been rendered poorer as a result of the ongoing blowout of a wellhead operated by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company in Opu-Nembe, Nembe LGA of Bayelsa State.
Since November 5th 2021, the wellhead has been spewing yet to be determined volumes of crude oil and gas into the environment, although members of community insist that the spill began on November 1st 2021.
Without providing any proof so far, Aiteo has repeatedly said it was suspecting sabotage, setting the stage for a contentious determination in the event the joint investigation visit determines that the spill was not a result of sabotage.
So far, experts estimate that 200,000 barrels of crude has been spilled into the Santa Barbara River, damaging the flora and fauna in the area.
Director-General of NOSDRA, Mr Idris Musa, said the intensity of the leak at the incident site, was hampering investigations to determine the cause of spill.
The well, which according to Aiteo has been capped and unused since 2019, reportedly consists of 80 percent of gas and 20 percent of crude.
Regulators fail to live up to expectations
Despite being a major oil producer and exporter since 1958, the NNPC Limited and other regulatory agencies in the industry, including oil operators, have failed to institute an effective blowout contingency plan which they could have been deployed to immediately stem incidents such as the Nembe blowout.
Following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the US Gulf of Mexico, BP began efforts to attempt to kill the deepwater blowout within days, and the incident occurred 50 miles offshore and a mile deep. The Deepwater Horizon incident blowout was exceptionally high pressure, and far more difficult to address than the OML29 blowout.
BP began drilling a relief well 12 days after the blowout first occurred, whereas NOSDRA only announced plans to kill the failed well on November 28th, four weeks after the blowout first occurred (Nov. 1st, according to the communities).
Ministerial lack of empathy
It took the directive of President Buhari for the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, who is from Nembe Kingdom to visit the impacted communities for on-the-spot assessment.
The Minister while addressing the people of Nembe Bassambiri, three weeks after the first blowout had said that he was “sent by the President to come and have on-the-spot assessment of the situation,” saying that the President will ensure that the situation is immediately remediated.
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Environment, Mrs Sharon Ikeazor, had said the scene of the Nembe spill could only be compared to “the impact of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the World War II.”
Ms Ikeazor said she has been receiving briefing on the spill from the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency.
“What I saw in terms of the pollution. 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.”
Moved by the magnitude of the Nembe spill, Ikeazor is calling for a review of the law establishing NOSDRA so that oil companies could face stiffer penalties for pollution.
“You will see that they will give maybe N100,000 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute (the environment). It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening.”
Meanwhile, an American lecturer from the University of Alaska, Prof Richard Steiner, says over 260,000 barrels have been discharged into the ecosystem from the Nembe oil spill incident.
Prof Steiner who is a Technical Advisor to the Ijaw Diaspora Council, said the claims that only 4,000 barrels have been spilled represents a dramatic underestimate, maintaining that the Nembe situation was a major spill.
“If one simply watches the video of the jet plumes coming off each side of the failed Christmas tree, and estimates the volume of fluid discharge each second, one comes to an easy minimum estimate of a cubic foot/second. A cubic foot of material is roughly 7 gallons and multiplying that flow rate by 86,400 seconds/day, equals 14,400 barrels per day (bbl/day).
“To be even more conservative, we can use a 10,000 bbl/day flow rate and multiplying this daily amount by either 21 or 26 days of blowout so far (depending on which start date you use), gives a total minimum discharge to date of 210,000 bbls or 260,000 bbls. In fact, the discharge could be twice that. Depending on the gas-to-oil ratio, this is still an enormous amount of toxic crude oil released into the mangrove ecosystem of Bayelsa State. Clearly, this is a major spill.”
The American professor maintained that Aiteo/NNPC must be held fully accountable under Nigerian law for their reckless corporate conduct in the Nembe oil spill incident.
“The federal Attorney General should explore holding Shell jointly liable for the spill, as Shell installed and operated the well, and transferred it to Aiteo in 2015. It remains unclear whether Aiteo assumed all future liabilities when it obtained the well from Shell. Shell should not be able to simply walk away from decades of reckless corporate behavior on the Delta, and escape any further liability.
“Again, the Nembe OML 29 blowout is a major spill, seriously impacting the local environment and communities, and the government and industry must respond accordingly.”
Response by Aiteo, the oil industry and regulators
The management of Aiteo, an indigenous oil firm which operates the Oil Mining Lease OML29, has said the spill remains ongoing even as it sought foreign technical assistance to stop the spill.
Overwhelmed by the spill, Aiteo said it has hired Halliburton’s Boots and Coots to “kill the well” with other assistance also sought from the oil industry operators under the Clean Nigeria Associates, an alliance of all oil firms operating in the country.
At least 4,000 barrels of Bonny light crude blend in four barges of 1,000 barrels have been recovered from the spill incident site.
“On 28 November, all activities in the vicinity of the blow-out site were temporarily suspended so the well-kill operation could begin,” according to an operational update from the Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA).
“The movement of engine powered boats have been suspended” and “personnel not directly involved in the well killing are not allowed to access the well slot from this afternoon on,” NOSDRA said.
Nembe fishermen lament impact of oil spill
Meanwhile, fishermen operating along the Santa Barbra River and Nembe creeks in Bayelsa have lamented the adverse impact of the oil spill from Aiteo’s oilfield near the area.
Chairman, Torusun fishing communities’ settlements, Chief Kelsey Ayebaemi-Dio said that the volume of oil spill has overwhelmed the predominantly fishing population.
Ayebaemi-Dio said that the spill has thrown residents of at least 41 fishing settlements in the Nembe speaking area of Bayelsa State out of business, following the pollution of the waters and subsequent contamination of their fishing gears.
“Our Artisanal fishing vocation has been threatened and halted abruptly and daily income that used to come from our daily expedition has ceased for about three weeks now.
“Life has been difficult and we are even exposed to gas pollution on a daily basis. The well, we are meant to understand is a gas well consisting of 80 per cent gas and 20 percent of crude, yet, all the response has been on oil recovery and nothing is done about gas.
“The ratio of gas to oil speaks volumes of the dangers before us as our people face respiratory difficulties.”
Gov Diri says Nembe spill worse than Gulf of Mexico oil spill
The Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, who visited the spill site on Wednesday, December 1st, has described the pollution as worse than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Governor Diri who expressed shock over the quantity of crude that has been spilled into the environment, called on the Federal Government and operators of the oil field to immediately take action to stop it.
“The prolonged oil spill into the water and air has an immediate and long-term effect on the health of the inhabitants. The quest by oil firms to make money should not be at the expense of the lives of the people.
Describing fishing as the source of livelihood of the people of the area, Governor Diri noted that just as there are grazing routes, Bayelsa State has fishing routes and must be protected.
He empathized the Nembe people, whom he said have lost their means of livelihood due to the spill, assuring that his administration will activate every constitutional means to arrest and redress the oil spill incident.
“Today happens to be a very dark day for me. What we have seen, I believe, is worse than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. In all my life, I have not seen such magnitude of oil spillage.
“Our people are endangered. Our people’s source of livelihood is endangered. I empathize and sympathize with the people of Nembe on behalf of the government and people of Bayelsa State.
“I therefore call on the Federal Government, the operators of the oil field, NNPC and Aiteo to immediately look for a superior technical know-how to contain and stop the spread of the oil.
“For Bayelsa, the only thing we know how to do best is fishing. Today, our own fishing route is endangered. I equally call on the Federal Government to immediately react and ensure that our fishing route is safe.”
To ameliorate the suffering of the people, Governor Diri directed the State Emergency Management Agency and Ministry of Health to immediately provide relief materials and healthcare services to the impacted communities.
Meanwhile, officials of Aiteo had visited the leadership of the impacted communities to show empathy with the victims and handed over four truckloads of food items, medical supplies and N5million cash while it battles to stop the leak.