Environmental experts and other key stakeholders in the Niger Delta region have accused Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company, and agencies of the Federal Government of cover up on the recent crude oil spill in Nembe area of Bayelsa state.
This is even as independent investigation conducted by EnergyDay confirmed the allegations being put forward as vital information concerning the oil spill and its impact on the environment appears to have been concealed by the company and the agencies.
Investigation by EnergyDay revealed the oil spill actually began at least three or more days earlier than the date publicly disclosed by the owner of the oil well and the federal government.
The situation further raises the fundamental issue of lack of full disclosure and transparency in the Nigeria oil industry.
Speaking to EnergyDay after a fact finding visit to the area last Tuesday, Ogbe Anthony, Director, Environmental Action Network, described the reportage of the ugly incident as unacceptable.
“If we accuse the multinational oil companies of improper behaviour, how about local company like Aiteo, I think there is a need to balance profit with adequate social responsibility. And part of this is prompt response to disaster. These companies operating in Niger Delta should take risk assessment serious. How far and to what extent do their activities constitute environmental danger to the ecosystem of the Niger Delta, and how such risks can be mitigated,” he emphasized.
He said that though Aiteo and the federal government had put a stop to the spill, there was no evidence to show that the large destruction to acquatic life had been remedied, many of the residents are said to have complained of health problems after the incident occurred.
“I can tell you authoritatively that when Environmental Action Network visited the site of the spill last week, many residents spoke to us on the condition of anonymity that the spill in spite of the cleanup has greatly affected the aquatic life and caused large scale destruction to farms without any compensation. This information is verifiable, as a journalist pay a visit to the site and you will understand what I’m talking about”, Anthony informed EnergyDay.
Anthony said Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company, the operator of the well insisted it “reported” the spill on November 5, and the Federal Ministry of Environment said the incident started November 5.
“Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO), Operator of the NNPC /Aiteo Joint Venture of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 on Friday, 5 November 2021, reported a hydrocarbon well head leak in its Santa Barbara, Southwest field, in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State,” the company said in a statement on November 22.
It further state: “Immediately upon noticing the leak, Aiteo notified all relevant regulatory agencies and thereafter mobilized containment resources to limit impact on the environment. As required, Aiteo promptly called for a Joint Inspection Visit (JIV). Due to the high-pressure effusion, the JIV team could not reach the location and that inspection was aborted.”
On its own, the ministry in charge of such thing, the federal ministry of environment was much more specific when it said: “It can be recalled that the spill occurred on Nov. 5, 2021, in a form of fountain within the proximity of Opu Nembe Community at Well 1, Wellhead located at the Southern Field of Sant Barbara,”
The above was a statement from Saghir el Mohammed, the ministry’s director of press, on November 23.
The statement continued: “Upon receipt of the report of the incident, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), was set up,” the government added.
Anthony however insisted that their findings show that these statements are not true.
He told EnergyDay that from extensive interaction with locals and various witnesses, the blowout actually started days earlier, and the Aiteo and the regulator were informed before the date they announced, but the duo of the company and the regulator refused to take action until November 5.
Also speaking, Engineer Adeoba Ojo, an environmental expert told this medium that “the basic challenge we are facing is that our response mechanism is reactivate instead of being proactive, we had expected full disclosure and much seriousness on the part of Aiteo and government than exhibited. Before the owner of the oil well and government went on a salvage mission, sources said they were aware of the development three days earlier, and we are talking of environmental degradation that has affected the livelihoods of many people.
Ojo explained to EnergyDay that both Aiteo and the regulator have breached the law, according to him, the law requires that companies report and respond to spills within 24 hours of learning about them.
Failure in this respect according to him attracts daily fines for the duration of the delay.
” Let me be frank with you, and I stand to be challenged for the reason that the fines are dismal — N500,000 a day — most of these oil companies sometimes feel no urgency to respond until the situation attracts public attention.
Meanwhile, it would be recalled that the team from Bayelsa state who joined the federal government and Aiteo in carrying out an environmental impact assessment refused to accept the government’s position that the art is a sabotage.
Aiteo did not respond to EnergyDay’s calls and messages.