The claim that the magnitude of November 3, oil spillage in Nembe, Bayelsa State, is worse than the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is an exaggeration, an investigation by Saturday Telegraph has shown. It was discovered on Thursday, during a helicopter and boat tour of the ground zero – OML 29 Wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field – that the spill, contrary to government claims, has been largely contained. A boat ride along the creeks of the Santa Barbara River also suggested that the spill is not as widespread as has been claimed.
The spill also does not extend to Nembe Town, a short distance away. The OML 29 Wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field in Nembe blew up on November 3, in unclear circumstances, including suggestions of sabotage. Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO) jointly own the well with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, on Wednesday returned from visiting the oil spill site in Nembe Local Government Area of the state. A statement by his spokesperson Dan Alabrah claimed that an estimated two million barrels of crude had been spilled into the river, polluting the flora and fauna of the area.
The statement claimed that the spill was worse than the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which resulted in the death of 11 workers, discharged four million barrels of oil over an 87-day period and is the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations. But the operators of OML 29 Wellhead disputed the government’s assessment and invited journalists to carry out an independent, on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
Accompanied by, among others, AEEPCO staff and protected by the Nigerian Navy, journalists toured the area and neighbouring communities on Thursday, by air and sea. It was observed that the oil spillage in the immediate vicinity of the well head was minimal as it was effectively contained both by booms. There were, however, traces of light oil along some of the waters some distance from the ground zero. The firm’s Global Group Director/Coordinator Andrew Oru, who accompanied journalists on the trip, explained that booms are temporary floating barriers used to contain marine spills, protect the environment, and assist in recovery. He noted that a boom includes a containment partition that floats on and extends above the water’s surface, and a “skirt” or “curtain” that sinks into the water.
Oru explained why the leakage at OML 29 Wellhead was not worse. Oru said the spill was of a special type – a gas blowout – which involved 80 per cent gas and 20 per cent oil. He noted that this contrasted with the impression being created that the entire environment had been seriously polluted. Oru described as “spurious” claims that the leak spilled two million barrels of oil into the creeks, explaining that the well’s production capacity, including its total reserves, was nowhere near two million barrels. He gave further clarifications in Opu-Nembe in Nembe Local Government Area (LGA) after the tour.
“The talk of two million barrels of oil spilling from the well is spurious. Two million barrels is about two super tankers; the oil would have spread over the entire country. The reserve of the well itself is nowhere near two million barrels,” he said. He assured the community that the all was being done to prevent any humanitarian or ecological disaster.
Oru said: “I can tell you authoritatively that the pressure of the well has been substantially diminished already, because all the chemicals that are needed to put the pressure under control are been fed in continuously and the pressure has started going down. “This spill is a special type. It’s not just an oil spill, it’s a gas blowout, for whatever reason. There are two stages in containing it.
The first one is to stop the gas leakage. The second is to fill the well.” “It is the gas leakage that engenders and creates room for some droplets of oil to escape with gas. “The well is a gas well, 80 per cent gas and about 20 per cent oil; that is why it is relatively easy for us to contain the amount of oil that spills out. Ordinarily, if what is coming out now were oil, I can imagine that we’ll be needing Noah’s Ark by now.” He noted that the heavy vegetation of the area by which oxygen is emitted in large quantities and which flows freely as well had also help to absorb gaseous emissions.
“But critically speaking, the pressure of the gas that is coming out has been almost completely extinguished and in one or two days maximum, I believe we will proceed further to begin the well kill process,” Oru said. The company also donated five truckloads of palliative, including food and medical supplies, to the Nembe Kingdom.
The items, received by the community eaders, were stored in the Opu Nembe Town Hall for onward distribution to fishing communities directly affected by the spill. The donated items are 10 cows, 500 bags of rice, 500 cartons of noodles, 500 cartons of water, 500 tubers of yam, 200 cartons of toilet rolls, 200 cartons of milk, 200 bags of garri, 200 cartons of tin tomatoes, 100 cartons of beverages and 100 cartoons of vegetable oil. Others are 100 Knorr season cubes, 100 bags of salt, 100 bags of Ariel soaps, Jerry cans of palm oil, six digital thermometers, four blood pressure machines, two sugar testing kits, 150 packs of Coartem for malaria, five packs of PCM, five cartons of Detoil, 40 mosquito nets, Vitamin C and fully equipped first aid boxes. Chairman of Opu-Nembe Council of Chiefs, Chief Ori Ango Ekpeleyai-Oruwari, who spoke on behalf of the Nembe monarch, said: “On behalf of the Amanayanbo of Opu-Nembe Kingdom, I receive these relief materials that are coming to our community for the second time. “For those who are directly impacted in the oil spillage from OML 29 at Santa Barbara we are indeed very grateful to Aiteo for bringing these relief materials to us,” he said.