FEAR gripped the people of Elebele, a rustic fishing and farming settlement in Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, penultimate Saturday, following a gas leakage from a pipeline suspected to have been caused by vandals.
NDV learned that the spewing gas from the facility owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, with massive assets in the area, which is also host to Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC, was noticed between 3.00 pm and 4.00 pm by community folks, May 15.
Smell from the gas leak reportedly enveloped the environment and generated fear of possible fire outbreak.
We were frightened — Godfrey Obi, resident
Recalling the incident, Godfery Obi, who worked with the Elebele Council of Chiefs and Elders, said: “We received a call that there was gas leakage right at this point. This is a Shell pipeline; conveying gas and crude oil. It was something very dangerous to human life because it was very close to the road. It was a serious leakage, accompanied by some noise.”
Though normalcy had since been restored, he urged the company to be alive to its responsibility by engaging surveillance team to watch over the facility.
“What actually happened was a threat to human life because tricycles, bikes and cars were plying this road. And you can imagine what could have happened if there was a little ignition of fire, so we are calling on SPDC to engage surveillance contractor and someone who would be clearing the pipeline to scare away vandals,” he asserted.
Terrible experience — Franklin, tricycle rider
A tricycle rider, Chima Franklin, who witnessed the incident said: “The experience I had on that fateful day was a terrible one. I passed that spot carrying passengers. When I passed through that environment where gas had saturated the place, it was terrible. The noise was too much and the smoke (gas) spewing into the environment was much.
“I thought it was my tyre that burst, so I stopped to check around, it was a leakage of gas around that area. My passengers were afraid and they urged me to move them away from that environment before fire erupts. The incident started around 3.00 pm and when I passed there around 8.00 pm; it was still very much on. All those passing the area in cars and tricycles were scared,” he added.
Trespassers took benefit of bushy environment — ERA/FoEN
Speaking on the incident, head, ERA/FoEN, Bayelsa office, Comrade Alagoa Morris, who visited the scene a day after the reported leak, expressed surprise over the vulnerability of the facility.
“ERA/FoEN field monitor was surprised to know that such oil/gas bearing pipelines are laid along that stretch of land. With the pipeline having overgrown shrubs and grasses, only those who actually know the exact spots the oil/gas pipeline was laid could trace and dig the real spots and execute their mission aided by bushy environment for cover.
“One of those who led ERA/FoEN to the site said the pipes on this pipeline were replaced not long ago, they are new pipes, signs of digging were very obvious and the fact that the incident happened in the afternoon is a testimony that the vandals took advantage of the bushy environment to perpetrate the act.
“Even though the site of gas leak was close to the relatively busy road, it was nice to know that there was no fire incident. This might have been as a result of the weather.
At the time of this visit, there was no observable significant damage in the environment. The ruptured spot was still spewing the content of the pipeline when ERA/FoEN visited.
Why we suspect vandals
“While there was little quantity of water [maybe due to rain] in the spot dug to expose the pipe, what was being spewed appeared to be gas though substances suspected to be crude oil was also floating on the bubbling water. The bubbling was caused by the low pressure gas spewing, accompanied with a sound which could be heard from the roadside.
“Even though the cause of the leakage would be left for the official Joint Investigation Team, JIT, to determine; this incident is strongly suspected to have been caused by vandals. The presence of fresh mud dug to have access to the pipe and 3 O’Clock or 9 O’ Clock position of rupture gives ERA/FoEN this conclusion on cause of the leak,” he said.
ERA, however, urged Shell to take all necessary and legitimate steps to ensure the protection of its pipelines and functional oil/gas wellheads within Elebele environment as well as other places where it operates.