By Emmanuel Nduka
The Bayelsa State Government Technical Committee on the November 5 oil leak at Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 in Nembe, has faulted claims that the leak was caused by sabotage.
OML 29 oil block is operated by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company, an indigenous oil firm that acquired the asset for about $2.4 billion following the 2015 divestment by Shell.
The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), had on December 22 attributed the spill to sabotage, while the Bayelsa committee claimed the spill was due to equipment failure.
Biriyai Dambo, Chairman of the Committee in a statement dismissed the claim and faulted the procedures adopted in arriving at the conclusions.
Dambo who is also the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Bayelsa, said the divergent views held by the parties could not be resolved and so rendered the Joint Investigative Visit (JIV) inconclusive.
The JIV is a statutory probe that follows every reported leak incident to unravel the cause and volume of crude discharged into the environment.
The JIV is usually convened by the operator of the leak facility and it comprises representatives of the oil firm, affected communities, regulators and the state Ministry of Environment.
Dambo went on to note that the components and accessories of the wellhead that were to be inspected had been removed and replaced, which amounted to tampering with and concealing the equipment and evidence.
According to the statement, there have been similar incidents of oil spillage, although of lesser magnitude, from the same Santa Barbara Wellhead 1 in OML 29 in 2018 and 2019, which Aiteo had previously admitted.
The committee expressed regrets that till date there has been no remediation nor safeguards against future recurrence put in place or enforced by Aiteo and NOSDRA respectively over the spills.
The statement adds that requests for remediation of the earlier spills by the affected communities were rebuffed, until this major blowout happened in November.
“We were shocked to note that on the day of this latest JIV, when asked about these previous incidents at the exact same wellhead, AITEO denied and NOSDRA kept silent. During the course of the JIV, the behaviour and utterances of representatives of NOSDRA and NUPRC called into question their independence and neutrality,” the Bayelsa Government said.
The State Government insisted that NOSDRA and NUPRC were biased and “are playing a script in cahoots with AITEO.”
“We have very convincing evidence which we will bring to light at the appropriate time and through the appropriate fora that NOSDRA and NUPRC are completely biased. They have taken a premeditated position in favour of Aiteo against the interest of the people of Bayelsa state and the Niger Delta.
“This is terribly sad and unfortunate given the fact that NOSDRA and NUPRC are supposed to be regulators and as such should be unbiased and act at all times with integrity,” it added.
Rejecting the JIV of December 22, 2021, Dambo maintained that the position of Bayelsa Government remains that the cause of the spill was equipment failure and that it would take all appropriate steps to pursue environmental justice for itself and the affected communities.