The year could not have ended on a sadder note for the Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company, SNEPCo, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch Shell Group in Nigeria, when oil leaks were discovered in the process of loading a crude vessel on December 20.
In view of Shell’s antecedents in oil spills in Nigeria and the Niger Delta, the particular, (the United Nations Report on 50 years of oil pollution in Ogoni land is still very fresh, as both the Federal Government and Shell is yet to rise to the challenge of the urgency of the situation has done nothing yet), nothing much was expected to be done.
However, Shell surprised the industry, as the cleanup of the spill, which the Minister of the Environment, Hajia Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, estimated would last for at least six weeks, when she led a team of ministry and agencies representatives to visit Bonga, took only a few days.
Generous support team
Shell may be laundering its image, some analysts argued, but the company told Sweetcrude that “What made the difference to the management of the spill was the speed of response. On noticing an oil sheen on the surface of the water around the Bonga Floating Production Storage and Offloading, FPSO on December 20th, 2011, we shut down the export lines thereby stopping the flow of oil; informed local government/regulatory authorities and mobilised emergency operations crews.
“We set up a Country Crisis Team and Emergency Response centres in Lagos and Warri who were in 24hr connection with a support team at our Group offices in The Hague.
“We also got the support of many third parties including Clean Nigeria Associate (National tier-2 response agency), other IOCs – ExxonMobil, NOAC and Govt Agencies – DPR, NOSDRA. UK-based Oil Spill Response flew in with a Hercules aircraft, assisted by another plane from Ghana, which sprayed dispersants on the oil along with five seaborne vessels. In addition, we deployed booms to stop the spread of the oil and skimmers to recover spilled oil.”
It explained further that ,”The oil was largely dispersed by Sunday, December 25, 2011 due to natural processes (dispersion, spreading and evaporation) and the integrated efforts of SNEPCo, government and our industry partners. Initial modeling suggested that 50% to total spill was gone via natural processes by December 22, 2011. Oil disperses naturally though evaporation and bio-degradation. Dispersants speed up natural dispersion.
“Main benefits are that they remove concentrated oil from water surface and disperse oil into the water column where it naturally degrades. The magic you refer to is the combination of all these efforts and timely support from Government agencies including Customs and Immigration. The Minister of Environment acknowledged these efforts when she visited Bonga.”
But environment groups are not happy that Shell is being left off the hook so lightly without even paying any damages, especially as Mailafia noted that the spill will affect aquatic life. In fact, at a recent Town Hall Meeting on the removal of fuel subsidy, human rights activist Femi Falana, urged the Federal Government to, “Go after Shell for the Bonga oil spill, see how BP made the Americans richer with the Gulf of Mexico spill; they got $20billion.”
The Environment Rights Action/Friend of the Environment Nigeria, in their findings argued that the Bonga spill may have affected some riverrine communities in Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states
However, Shell defended, “It is important to understand that the Bonga FPSO is 120km offshore, about one hour by a helicopter flight from Warri. There are no communities near the facility. As part of our emergency response planning, we envisage the most likely emergency response scenarios and plan accordingly.
“To ensure no oil from the Bonga leak reached the beach, we leveraged assets from around Shell’s global portfolio. We also worked with and benefited from the assistance of our industry partners. Our main goal was to ensure the oil was fully dispersed and that none of it reached the shore. We were successful.
“In addition to natural processes, our primary strategy was to disperse all of the oil offshore with dispersants. We attempted to install protective booms in the event any of the oil came close to shoreline areas. We performed continuous surveillance using aircraft and satellite to track and target the oil.
“We believe the oil on the beach is not from Bonga. We made significant progress every day to disperse the oil that leaked from Bonga We were disappointed to see images of a third party spill which appeared to be from a vessel, in the middle of an area that we had previously cleaned up.
“We are confident that any oil of that age, color and consistency that hits the beach is not ours. We are taking samples as part of the joint investigation which will be reviewed to provide evidence that this is not Bonga oil on the beach. We advise all parties to wait for the outcome of the investigation of the oil sample which will be handled by a reputable lab overseas.”
Members of the Senate Committee on Environment which also visited Bonga last week said further investigations would be conducted to determine the source of the third party spill observed around the shoreline. Just as Shell said, “When we saw the leak we immediately began to clean it up – we believe this is what any good corporate citizen would do in the circumstances.”
The whole truth
But the environment groups are convinced Shell is not has not told the whole truth, and demanded that:
* The Nigerian government compel Shell to state the actual amounts of oil spewed from its facility.
* We demand that Shell also reveal the names and types of chemical dispersants used in fighting the spill.
* More importantly, the Nigerian government, in addition to carrying out an independent investigation of Shell’s claims that only 40,000 barrels of crude was spewed, should make the company pay adequately for the damage done to Odioma Community folks and other communities along the Atlantic coast of the Niger Delta affected.
* An independent verification and cleaning up of existing mess (all over the Niger Delta) onshore and offshore should be the focus of NOSDRA and other regulatory agencies.
Responding, Shell said, “We estimate that the volume of oil that leaked was less than 40,000 barrels. As you might be aware, the spill occurred during a routine operation to transfer oil from the Bonga FPSO to a loading tanker. To be clear, this was not a well failure, where oil will be gushing out without control. The Bonga leak was quickly brought under control as we shut the line on noticing the oil sheen on the surface of the water around the FPSO.”
With regard to the type of dispersants used, the company said: “We used Corexit 9500 and 9527 (which were also applied in the Gulf of Mexico) and Slickgone NS. Dispersants were specifically formulated for use in marine environments and they have low toxicity.
They are less toxic than many products that people use at home every day in the bathrooms or kitchens. Dispersants are about five times less toxic than oil and they are applied in very low volumes (1-5% of oil volume). By dispersing oil from high concentrations on surface of sea into water column where there is essentially unlimited dilution and microbial breakdown, exposure is reduced to the greatest extent possible.
This process takes place in about a month and the waters recover quickly to background levels.”
Despite the scepticisms regarding its prompt response, which some analysts insist was “to avoid paying damages since they already have a lot of suits pending against on oil spill, even more so following the damning revelations of the UN Report, Shell insisted, “As pioneer of deepwater oil production in Nigeria, SNEPCo possesses significant capability to deal with offshore spills, and has often tested the relevant systems in rigorous routine drills. This helped in our response. And as a global company, Shell reviews its processes and systems, bringing to bear lessons and insights from its operations worldwide, including in Nigeria.”
Some previous spills by Shell
*1979, a rupture at Shell’s Forcados Terminal dumped 570,000 barrels into the estuary and adjoining creeks.
* Between 2008 and 2009, Shell’s trans Niger delta pipeline spewed close to 400,000 barrels of crude oil in Bodo City, Ogoni in two spills.