Nigeria: As Aiteo Navigates Stern Nembe Oil Spill

29 November 2021

In robust response to the recent high-pressure oil leak from its Oil Mining Lease 29, in Nembe, Bayelsa State, Aiteo Eastern Exploration Company (AEEPCO) mustered its local resources - deploying medical/relief materials for the affected communities and enlisted international technical intervention for containment and recovery, Louis Achi reports

On November 5, Aiteo Eastern Exploration Company (AEEPCO) reported a major oil leak from its Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29, the Santa Barbara South field, in Nembe, Bayelsa State.

The wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field, jointly owned by AEEPCO and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), blew up, spewing oil into the water bodies and contiguous communities and fumes in the air.

Aiteo which stated that the well had been mostly dormant acquired the OML 29 for $2.4 billion, following the 2015 divestment by Shell. The well consists of the 97km Nembe Creek trunk line which evacuates crude from onshore oil wells within the oil bloc and other operators to Bonny Export Terminal.

Following the spillage, efforts to cap the leaking wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field, in Nembe received a major boost with the deployment of heavy equipment, including two 1000 metric-tonne (mt) ramps, by AEEPCO.

The ramps which sailed to the ground zero in Nembe Local Government Area (LGA) of Bayelsa State measurably boosted ongoing containment exercises, with booms and environmental barges already mopping up spilled crude oil.

The company disclosed this in a statement by the Group Managing Director (GMD) Aiteo Eastern E & P Company Ltd, Mr. Victor Okoronkwo.

He revealed that there was currently no fire at or within the vicinity of the well, while Environmental Impact Assessment in vicinity of the area is in planning phase with a DPR/NOSDRA accredited firm.

The statement followed the visit of Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva and other dignitaries to take stock of the situation at ground zero last week.

During the visit, Silva had detailed discussions with the Aiteo intervention team on ground, led by its Chief Operations Officer, Ewarezi Useh who briefed him on the pre-kill well assessment by Boots & Coots company. Useh assured the minister that the well would be secured within 48 hours of the visit.

Halliburton, the Houston-based firm's Boots & Coots unit, was called in by Aiteo to contain the leak and fast-track spill recovery and has mobilised to ground zero. Aiteo, in a statement signed by its Media Contact, Mr. Matthew Ndiana, explained that aside urgent technical responses to contain the leak, it had also sought the collaboration of Clean Nigeria Associates (CNA), which had also since mobilised to site.

Aware that the situation is time-sensitive, Aiteo's COO Ewarezi Useh assured that the "containment exercise continues, with booms and environmental barges mopping up spilled crude. All relevant personnel and experts, local and international are now on location. The marine spread carrying the pumps, chemicals, cranes and firefighting equipment are 100 per cent mobilised."

He further explained that - "A 2 x 1000MT Ramp barge containing simulation equipment for the well-kill had also sailed while concurrent activities are ongoing on the barges to minimise clean up downtime.

The company said it commenced RU (rig up) but could not finish due to bad weather but explained that its forward plan was to complete RU and install well control package to arrest the leak.

Aiteo explained further that in preparation for "well kill" the 1000 Ramp barge containing all pumping and simulation equipment for the well-kill was expected to arrive Santa Barbra field over the weekend. More, the loading of additional equipment being mobilised from Snake Island was underway and expected to arrive Santa Barbra 24 hours ago.

Aiteo clarified that the affected communities were being carried along adding that "Relief materials, viz. mosquito net, hygiene and sanitary kits, disinfectants, food materials, are being mobilised to the immediate communities impacted by the spill."

According to the oil company, "Aiteo Officials are closely monitoring all activities related to the affected communities, viz. feeding, lighting, hygiene, drinking water and medical requirements with the help of local associations. Aiteo Safety and security and HSE teams are monitoring the quality of air every six hours to ascertain the livability of the areas adjoining ground zero. Aiteo is mobilizing additional relief materials for the affected communities."

Findings revealed that all relevant personnel and experts, local and international are now on location. The marine spread carrying the pumps, chemicals, cranes and firefighting equipment are 100 per cent mobilized.

Videos of the operation sighted by THISDAY confirmed that while the "well kill" operation was going on, several barges carrying cranes and other equipment were on ground zero and intensifying 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 make arrange all key lines. We have begun work already," Aiteo explained.

Cause of Well Head Damage Unknown

Three weeks after the pipeline blowout in Nembe, the federal government, last week, acknowledged it was yet to establish the cause of the rupture and specifically frowned at speculations the explosion might be an act of sabotage. It also denied reports the country lost over 200,000 barrels of oil to the spillage, which had now been contained.

According to the Director General/Chief Executive Officer, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, who spoke on the "Morning Show," a programme monitored on ARISE NEWS Channel, no one had been able to access the wellhead to determine what exactly happened.

His words: "It is absolutely wrong and preposterous for people to make false speculations over the oil spillage in Nembe communities of Bayelsa State. As I speak, nobody has been able to reach the oil wellhead, where the flow is coming from.

"The best that was achieved by the joint investigation teams was to get close to the source, but nobody has been able to reach the actual source of the flow. It is only when the team will be able to reach the source that they can determine the possible cause of the oil spill. It is only when they get to the source of the leakage that they will know whether the leakage was caused by broken pipe or corrosive pipe or loosed nuts.

"So the cause of the oil spill is unknown at the moment, until a time when we are able to get to the source, which is the actual oil wellhead from where the leakage is coming from."

He insisted the cause of the oil spill could only be verified by facts and not by speculations and simulations.

According to him, "The truth of the matter is that the oil wellhead has been abandoned for years and cannot therefore be compared to oil wellhead that is active and operational," noting that, "It is not the responsibility of NOSDRA to regulate abandoned oil wellheads, because it is under the regulation of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission. The commission had a number of times, planned to decommission abandoned oil wells, but they still surface."

Going forward, Musa said Nigeria needed to enhance local human capacity that could handle such disaster at shorter notice.

Indisputably, the federal government's position on the Nembe spill cannot be disassociated from recent happenings in the oil rich Niger delta region which has spawned various often violent militant groups.

Just last week, a new militant group in Rivers State, Bayan-Men, blew up another oil facility belonging to the Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC, at Obosi area of Omoku, Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.

The attack came at the expiration of the 24 hours ultimatum earlier handed Agip by the aggrieved group last Sunday.

The militant group in a statement, last Wednesday, owned up to the attack, noting that it was acting as a result of the injustice against the Omoku people.

The statement signed by General Agaba, the General of Bayan-Men, stated that it would carry out more attacks on Agip facilities if the firm does not retrace its step and engage the communities of Omoku directly.

Being a foremost indigenous oil company, it would appear that Aiteo's engagement strategy with its host communities is vastly different from what obtains with IOCs and as such would not attract hostility at the scale of blowing up its wellheads. But a more conclusive scenario can only only flow from establishment of the cause of the incident.

The President Responds

A federal government delegation led by Sylva, at the instance of the president, visited communities affected by the spillage. The minister was joined on the inspection by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Engr. Gbenga Komolafe; the traditional ruler of Opu-Nembe Kingdom, His Royal Highness King Biobelemoye Josiah; and House of Representatives member representing Brass/Nembe Constituency, Mr. Israel Adi.

"Mr President is very concerned about the spill, that is why he sent me to come and have on the spot assessment of the situation. He feels the pains of the people and wants urgent steps taken to address the problem," Sylva told his worried Nembe audience.

Addressing the Basambri Community after inspecting the spill site, Sylva said it was important for him to come to see things for himself to ensure that there was no problem between the oil company and the community.

Addressing the community, Komolafe said they were in Basambri on the instructions of the president to see things for themselves. He noted that as regulators in the upstream sector of the economy, the commission would ensure that operators operate within acceptable international standards that will impact positively on the lives of the people in the oil producing communities."

As AITEO navigates stern Nembe oil spill test, it can only come out stronger and better positioned to deal with related future challenges.

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