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Rush to clean major oil spill

Authorities rushed to prevent one of Nigeria’s worst recent oil spills from reaching the West African nation’s shoreline yesterday, with production from a major Shell field also shut due to the leak. Shell, which said the leak has been stopped, estimated that less than 40,000 barrels of crude have spilled into the sea and was deploying ships with dispersants to attack the slick. Planes were also being mobilised.

It was Nigeria’s worst offshore spill since a 1998 Mobil incident, though onshore leaks have been estimated at levels far worse since that time in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

“It’s about the same level as what happened in 1998 with the Mobil oil spill,” said Peter Idabor, head of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.“The oil slicks went down the whole coastline and beyond Nigeria’s borders.”

He said Nigeria was better prepared this time, with some 210 tonnes of dispersant being prepared to attack the spill, which has spread to an area between 55 and 70 kilometres in size.

Environmental group SkyTruth estimated the slick was 70 kilometres long and 17 kilometres at its widest.

It said it covered 923 square kilometres of ocean. Idabor said it was unclear when the oil slick could reach the shore.

London-based Oil Spill Response Ltd was to be involved in the clean-up, he said.The slick was moving in the direction of Forcados, which is located along the coast of Nigeria’s Delta state.Nnimmo Bassey, the Nigeria-based head of Friends of the Earth International who has closely monitored spills in the country, called it a major incident and pressed for an independent analysis of the amount leaked.

“We can see a real threat to livelihood to fishermen and local communities onshore,” he said.The leak occurred on Tuesday at Shell’s Bonga field some 120 kilometres off Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and an OPEC member. Production has been stopped at the field, which has a daily capacity of 200,000 barrels.

The company claimed yesterday that “up to 50 per cent of the leaked oil has already dissipated due to natural dispersion and evaporation,” but that figure was impossible to verify.

Mr Bassey cast doubt on the figure, saying, “I don’t believe that 50 per cent would disperse so soon.”

The company said the leak had occurred during a transfer of crude to a waiting tanker. The likely source was an export line linking a production vessel to the tanker, it said.

Nigeria has been producing between 2.0 and 2.4 million barrels per day in recent months. Scores of oil spills have occurred in the country, but most have been onshore, particularly due to pipeline sabotage aimed at stealing crude to sell on the black market as well as militant attacks. Activists say Shell and other companies have not done enough to prevent oil leaks.

The UN released a report in August saying decades of oil spills in the Nigerian area of Ogoniland may require the biggest clean-up ever undertaken, with communities dependent on farmers and fishermen left ravaged.

Activists say two spills in the Ogoni community of Bodo in 2008 amounted to hundreds of thousands of barrels, but Shell says it was far less.

Date: December 24, 2011                                                        Source: timesofmalta.com

 

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