By Charles Kumolu
On November 5, last year, oil spill was recorded at OML 29 Well 1Platform in Nembe, Bayelsa State.
The impact of the incident, which led to nationwide outrage, affected dozens of nearby fishing settlements along the Nembe coastline and the Santa Barbara River which meanders through the Niger Delta before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
Just last week, a committee set up to investigate the incident established that third party interference was responsible for the spill.
In this interview, Mr Victor Ekpenyong, a member of the body and Founder/CEO of Kenyon International West Africa, the firm that stopped the spill, reveals what was discovered at the site, saying the damage was caused by sabotage. He also speaks on how to prevent a similar incident from occurring.
It was reported that evidence from the joint investigation panel on the Nembe oil spill confirmed earlier information that the spill was an act of sabotage. How true is this?
This is true. Based on engineering analysis conducted during the assessment of the site, the investigation concluded that it was an act of sabotage. The technical structure of the well was designed to last and Aiteo had been diligently conducting both first- and second-line maintenance which are aimed at protecting the integrity of the well. In other words, it would be incorrect to infer that equipment failure led to the oil spill. The investigation found that the spill would not have happened if there was no external interference on the well. So what happened there was external interference.
We learned that a team of engineers from Kenyon International West Africa Company Limited, a Nigerian-owned international oil and gas servicing company that you founded, stopped the spill. What did your team discover upon arriving at the scene?
Prior to our team’s arrival at the site, we had to send some of our technicians to conduct a thorough inspection of the area to know what we were up against. They came back reporting the blowout and its intensity. We had to ascertain the severity of the spill to see if it was something we could handle, and when the team unanimously agreed after careful deliberation, we contacted Aiteo and informed them it was within our capacity. We then went to the drawing board to map out ways to curb the spill. After which we mobilized our team to the site to contain the oil spill and put it to a stop.
According to reports from experts, the spill was of a special type – a gas blowout, which involved 80 percent gas and 20 percent oil. Can you tell us more about this?
Sure! When we got there, the pressure that came from the reservoir was high. It contained more gas than crude oil. That was why the pressure emanating from the well was quite high making it a lot harder to contain the spill.
Given that efforts to contain the flow from the shattered wells were futile at first, how was it possible for your team to stop it eventually?
We had to deploy some engineering experts and superior equipment that could help solve the challenge as we always do with such problems. Just like with everything else, some challenges come with their own peculiarities so you may need to deploy some superior technologies that would help you effectively tackle the challenge.
The way the oil was spilling was quite the challenge and some other factors such as the tidal circle, and the direction of flow among others were also challenging and this made us ponder the sort of technology that could be deployed to solve the problem effectively which was what we did.
Are you aware of some reports that claimed that foreign companies stopped the spill. Up until now, many people do not really know who worked on the wellhead to stop the leakage…
We heard some reports of such but we really do not concern ourselves with things like that. For us, the focus at the time was to do the work we were tasked with and provide value to our clients, and as long as clients know who is doing their work and they see the value we bring to the table, the rest is secondary. After the spill was contained, Aiteo also published a press statement where it appreciated me personally and our company, Kenyon International West Africa Company Limited, for containing the spill. This information is easily available online. We are grateful for all the attention we have received this period and if there are people claiming our work, we will take that as admiration and be grateful for it as well. Our focus remains excellent work and providing value to our clients who trust us to always deliver.
How long has your firm been in the oil and gas industry to have achieved this success?
We started operation fully in 2015, and this journey would not have been possible if we had not begun our operations with Total E&P, which is now known as Total Energies. Working for Total improved our system immensely which helped us to acquire world safety standards such as conducting premobilisation audits, frequently auditing our working system by their HSE personnel to ensure we are following global industry-recommended practices. This enabled us to acquire ISO 9001:2015 which is a quality management system that improved our system and enabled us to acquire more market share in the industry and get more customers. The company is not a one-man company, and every personnel is a professional in their field of expertise which has led us to achieve the level of success we have seen in the industry and hope to continue achieving. I am very grateful to our amazing team.
From your experience, how can further spills be prevented in the area and the entire Niger Delta region?
We secured that affected well so something terrible like that won’t occur again. Also, we spoke with some members of the host community and made them understand that the wells require a concerted effort from everyone to enable us to keep the environment safe. We proposed to Aiteo and they accepted us to secure wells that are not flowing. So I will say everyone should just follow what Aiteo is doing.
Simply secure the wells that are not flowing subsurface and surface. Also, there should be a robust management plan for idle wells which we have shared to some of our partners, customers, and some industry regulators as well.
In Nigeria, we have so many idle wells and we need to figure out how these wells can be managed effectively to safeguard our environment and assets as well. We need to put measures in place to prevent third-party interferences on the assets.
We developed a robust idle well management plan which we have already submitted to a lot of bodies. This plan is well-thought-out and anyone in the oil and gas industry would find it quite spectacular.
This means that companies that have many wells could reach out to us so we could help them develop systems they could put in place to effectively manage their wells and prevent such environmental disasters keeping both customers and the host communities safe.
Irrespective of the findings of the joint committee on the incident, Bayelsa State government still maintains that it was a result of system failure. What do you make of this?
I was part of the team because our company killed the well. We presented our facts based on a well-thought-out engineering perspective and some other regulators also presented their own findings.
Equally, the Bayelsa State government presented theirs. That’s all I can say. Technically speaking, we did not notice equipment failure. As it is, it is within the jurisdiction of the regulators to collate all findings and make an accurate judgment.
Oil spill usually leads to loss of revenue and environmental hazards. Are there alternatives to the transportation of crude oil with surface or ground pipelines?
Crude oil is being transported by ground pipelines as you have rightly said. This is the industry-recommended practice. Although when we put vandalism in perspective, these hoodlums go the extra mile of digging deep into the soil to reach the buried pipes so they could vandalize them. Oil spill happens mostly due to third-party interference and perhaps equipment failure.
When it happens, there is definitely a loss of revenue because the federal government, through the Ministry of Budget and Planning, benchmarked crude oil by ascertaining the daily production. This enables them to create a budget for the year.
If the projected daily production for the year 2022 was 1.8 million barrels per day at 60 dollars per barrel, and we have 1 million barrels per day due to pipeline vandalism, we would have lost a huge chunk of revenue, not to mention the environmental impact such as we faced at Nembe where the locals could not fish or carry out their regular activities due to impact of the oil on the Santa Barbara River. In essence, there needs to be some form of communal effort involving the government, regulators, operating companies and communities in solving these problems of vandalism and oil spills.
Now that you have succeeded in stopping the leakage that destroyed the host communities of OML 29 Well 1, what follows in terms of cleanup?
Our job was to stop the leak so as to enable the clean up which we have done. However, I believe the customer that engaged us, Aiteo, did have a plan on ground which they might have commenced by now because when we went to the site recently for the JIV, we discovered that all the area where we saw crude oil had been cleaned up.
We saw some environmental barges there and some people cleaning up the environment. I believe everything is on course to remediate the environment as promised.
What is next for Kenyon International, especially in the new year?
For us, the objective is to keep providing value to our clients who trust us with their business and new clients that come to us. We are out in a better position to serve our customers efficiently. We have equally positioned trained workers who have been equipped with expertise and experience for endeavors such as well control and well intervention. We deal in idle wells enabling customers to bring them back to production. We equally work on optimizing brownfield production as well. We also work on restoring casing collapse.