Bonga oil spill

SUN Newspaper

On December 20, last year, Nigeria experienced yet another oil spill, the worst in over a decade. This was sequel to the leakage of a facility at the Bonga oil field belonging to Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo). The leakage, which has been traced to an export line from the field’s floating production, storage and offloading vessel resulted in the loss of over 40,000 barrels of crude oil.

The Bonga oil field produces an estimated 200,000 barrels per day (bpd). The oil platform lies south west of the Niger Delta in a deep water measuring over 1,000 meters.
Expectedly, the oil spill has attracted local and international attention. This is because of the significance of the Bonga oil field and the implications for the international oil market.

The closest to the Bonga spill happened in 1998 when a similar leakage at ExxonMobil facility resulted in a horrendous spill estimated at over 45,000 bpd. Though the Bonga oil field has since been shut down while a massive clean–up by Shell that will last for weeks has since begun, a full-scale investigation promised by the Federal government is yet to commence.

However, a few days ago, Shell shut down its Nembe Creek Trunkline (NCTL) following another oil leak that has affected the production of 70,000 bpd. Shell attributed the latest spill to the handiwork of “crude oil thieves”. What is perhaps more worrying about the Nembe Creek Trunkline spill is the fact that the facility was commissioned less than three years ago, in October 2009. The oil rig was a quick response to replace an old trunkline that was always a major target by vandals.

All together, these oil spills are unsavory developments in the oil industry coupled with their attendant consequences on the economy. It is also a warning signal on Nigeria’s dependence on oil as the dominant source of our revenue. Considering the far-reaching consequences of these spills, both to the economy and the environment, we urge a speedy control of the oil spills and the cleaning of the environment that has been severely hit by these leakages. Nigeria’s crude oil export which is currently experiencing set- backs following these spills and the shutdown of the facilities, could even get worse if the leakages are not contained and immediate resumption of oil production in the affected oil fields. Before now, crude oil production was 2.4bpd. But that has been drastically reduced in recent weeks as a result of the oil spills.

We acknowledge the efforts the management of Shell has made so far to bring the problem under control. However, an investigation into the incident has become absolutely necessary. The Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, had during a recent visit to the site assured of a probe. Also, the Senate Committee on Environment, led by Dr. Bukola Saraki has equally underscored the seriousness of the spill and the need for a thorough investigation. Let these assurances translate into action so that the country will be spared another, perhaps more serious, disaster.

As a major player in the Nigeria oil sector, Shell should step up its oil spill response procedure and emergence strategy so that the situation will be completely contained. Shell needs no reminding of the critical importance of the Bonga oil field in Nigeria and its own operations in the Niger Delta. Built by Samsung of South Korea at a cost of $3.6 billion, the Bonga oil field was discovered in 1993. It measures 120 km offshore with a life span of 20 years. It became officially operational in 2004, and currently one of the world’s largest production storages.

The Bonga oil spill and other similar spills that have ravaged the Niger Delta and destroyed vegetation and marine life, need the attention of all concerned, including that of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). It should be recalled that these recent spills are coming few months after the report of the Environmental Policy Implementation Agency, an arm of the United Nations which blamed the incessant oil spills in the Niger Delta on negligence of oil firms in the areas. While it is too early to trade blames, what is of paramount importance now is how to avoid a reoccurrence.


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