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FG halts oil company operation in Bayelsa over OML 29 oil leak

...Fishermen lament as spill affects 41 casting settlements

By Seyi Odewale, with agency report
The Federal Government yesterday directed the AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCo) to halt operation at the Santa Barbara oil well in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The move is to ensure the safety of lives and properties of the people following a damaged wellhead that has been spilling crude oil and hydrocarbon into the area.

A statement by the Press Director, Federal Ministry of Environment, Saghir el Mohammed, in Abuja said the government has ordered that the company should not operate in the area until a proper investigation is carried out and adequate measures are put in place to ensure the safety of lives and property.

But the Nembe community, its fishermen, and the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) have picked holes in the statement, saying AEEPCo, and the government was being insincere. To them, the oil company was not quick enough to respond to the damaged wellhead.

They also lashed out at the oil company’s explanation of possible sabotage of the oil facility as jumping the gun in attributing the wellhead leak within its oil bloc in the Nembe creeks to sabotage when a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) had not been conducted on the incident.

However, according to Mohammed, stopping the oil firm was a proactive measure to address the recent unfortunate oil spillage at Santa Barbara in Nembe local government area of Bayelsa State.

“The Federal Government has directed the exploration company, AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited (AEEPCo) to halt operations in the area until a proper investigation is carried out.

“Also, adequate measures will as well be put in place to ensure the safety of lives and property in the area. It can be recalled that the spill occurred on November 5, 2021, in a form of a fountain within the proximity of Opu Nembe community at Well 1, Well Head, located at the Southern Field of Sant Barbara.

“Upon receipt of the report of the incident, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), was set up.

“Also, the state ministry of environment, community representatives, and Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company was set up on November 6, 2021, to immediately address the situation.

“The exercise was inclusive because of inaccessibility to the wellhead location due to the hydrocarbon fumes that saturated the atmosphere in the area. Consequently, the JIT directed AEEPCo to shut down the impacted asset (wellhead) for an appropriate oil spill response. Accordingly, AEEPCo deployed booms and skimmers to contain the spill crude oil from spreading,” the statement said.

He explained that “as of November 10, 2021, efforts to shut the well had proven difficult due to inaccessibility.”

Meanwhile, to safeguard the environment and livelihood, staff from the NOSDRA’s Yenagoa Field Office were deployed in the site to monitor and give progress reports on the measures being taken to address the issue.

“There are further directives to AEEPCo to engage all relevant stakeholders in the spilled oil recovery process. In this vein, 3,000 barrels of emulsified crude oil have been recovered and held in a recovery barge.

“Also, additional booms were deployed by the Clean Nigeria Association (CNA) System to work with the on-site recovery contractor. The further effort yielded results as containment and recovery within the leak area have been reinforced by November 15.”

Mohammed, in the statement, said the CNA has mobilized to the site for enhanced containment and recovery, adding that boot and coots, mobilized for good control and securing, and AEEPCo, have secured a temporary work permit for expatriates expected in the country for the activity.

According to him, based on JIT reports, a good control company (Kenyon International), was at the incident location for an on-site assessment.

…as spill affects 41 fishing settlements

Fishermen operating along the Santa Barbra River and Nembe creeks in Bayelsa yesterday lamented the adverse impact of the Nov. 5 oil leak from Aiteo’s oilfield in the area.

Chairman of Torusun Fishing Communities/settlements, Chief Kellcy Ayebaemi-Dio, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the volume of oil leaked had overwhelmed the predominantly fishing population.

He said the spill had thrown residents of the 41 fishing settlements in the Nembe speaking area of Bayelsa out of business, following the pollution of the waters and contamination of their fishing gears.

“Our artisanal fishing vocation has been threatened and halted abruptly and the daily income from our daily expedition has ceased for about three weeks now. Life has been difficult and we are even exposed to gas pollution daily.

“The well, we are meant to understand, is a gas well consisting 80 percent of gas and 20 percent of crude and all the response has been on oil recovery, and nothing is done about gas. The ratio speaks volumes of the danger before us as our people face respiratory difficulties.

“We are told that Aiteo sent relief materials but the quantity that trickled down to each community of about 200 people was less than two bags each of rice, garri, and beans.

“The relief materials are grossly inadequate and we have lost daily income while the leak has lasted,” he stated.

Ayebaemi-Dio urged the Bayelsa Government to emulate Aiteo and “come to our aid at this point, being a state that earns billions of naira from the oil derivation fund monthly.”

It would be recalled that the state government had berated Aiteo’s sluggish pace of response to the spill and its inability to plug the pinging leak.

The state government had warned the oil firm to be ready to take responsibility for polluting the waterways.

But Aiteo, in a statement by its spokesman, Matthew Ndiana, asserted that sabotage was suspected to have caused the leak.

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It would be recalled that the Director-General, National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, said a joint investigation into the cause cannot be held until the leak is stopped.

Sources close to the fishing settlements along the Nembe creeks said efforts to plug the leak were yet to yield results as the well continues to spew oil and gas into the environment.

With the on-the-spot assessment being carried out yesterday by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Silva, it is hoped that the leak would be fixed, and the affected communities adequately compensated.

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