The team, which will comprise regulators, including the Ministry of Environment, community members, SPDC and independent observers, will visit the site as part of their mission. The fire went out on Friday (21 June).

The TNP had previously been targeted by crude thieves and shut down several times to take out crude theft points. To ensure that the facility continued to meet operating standards, SPDC deployed a team to Bodo West on May 22, 2013 to remove and repair crude oil theft connections on both the 24 and 28-inch sections of the TNP. The repair team’s presence and mandate to remove crude theft points were made known to the community which granted them access. No sectional replacement work was underway. One operations support barge, one environmental barge and two tug boats were the only authorised vessels at the Bodo West worksite. Environmental barges are typically used to store and transport recovered oil.

The Managing Director of SPDC and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu said, “Unfortunately, crude thieves continued to operate at night even as the repair team worked to remove illegal connections during the day, such that, on the day of the incident on June 19, two unauthorised Cotonou boats were reportedly present at the time of the initial explosion and fire. The established operations routine at any repair site comprises a team of SPDC staff, contractors and regulators who only work during daylight hours and leave the site at the end of each day. This means that no SPDC authorised people could have been on the ground at the time of the incident.”

Mr. Sunmonu continued, “Having shutdown and isolated the pipeline, but with oil continuing to flow from the pipeline under gravity to the low point on the TNP, the only other practicable option in the circumstance was to allow the fire burn out naturally. To prematurely extinguish the fire without functioning containment equipment on site could have resulted in further environmental damage. We continued to monitor the fire while also mobilising replacement oil spill containment and response equipment to site. With the fire out, a residual leak was observed at the site contained within the crater caused by the initial incident. We are currently mobilising crews to evacuate the pit, access the leak point prior to the joint investigation visit and complete repair.”

On the reported arrest of some employees of SPDC’s contractors and sub-contractors on suspicion of involvement in crude theft activities, Mr. Sunmonu said, “We appeal that the arrested suspects be treated in line with the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and hope  for a  speedy and transparent dispensation of justice for anyone found to have violated the laws of the land.”

He added, “We are committed to operating transparently, which is why we have invited the National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spill in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) to join the investigating team as independent observers. We will continue to run our operations as safely as is possible and in accordance with both industry regulations and Nigerian laws.”