The Bayelsa State’s Government Technical Committee on the Nov 5 oil leak at Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 at Nembe on Sunday faulted claims that the leak was caused by sabotage.
The Committee also raised the alarm that the regulatory agencies that are expected to be neutral in their findings concerning the cause of the spill are conspiring with Aiteo, the company in the eye of the storm, to smear the adversely impacted community and thus deny them of due compensation for the devastation of their environment.
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 regulatory agencies investigating the incident had on Dec 22 attributed the spill to sabotage while the Bayelsa committee claimed the spill was due to equipment failure.
The regulators are the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commision (NUPRC).
Mr. Biriyai Dambo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chairman, State Technical Committee in a statement dismissed the claim that the spill was caused by sabotage and faulted the procedures adopted in arriving at the conclusions.
Dambo, who is also the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Bayelsa said that the divergent views held by the parties could not be resolved and has, thus, 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 state ministry of environment.
Dambo noted 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 regretted 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 said spills.
According to the statement, requests for remediation of the earlier spills by the affected communities were rebuffed, until this major blowout happened in November 2021.
“We were shocked to note that on the day of this latest JIV, when asked about the 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.
“We are convinced that NOSDRA and NUPRC are biased and are playing a script in cahoots and concert 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.
“Finally, the Government of Bayelsa State completely rejects the JIV of Wednesday, December 22, 2021,” the statement read in part.
Dambo maintained the position of the Bayelsa government that the cause of the spill is equipment failure, stressing that the government would take all appropriate steps to pursue environmental justice for itself and the affected communities.
He explained that such redress will put an end to the perennial pollution of the environment through reckless and irresponsible oilfield practices that are condoned by a weak or compromised regulatory system.