A joint investigation team comprising regulators, communities, independent observers and SPDC found that this incident occurred as a result of unknown persons installing a valve to steal crude oil from the line.
SPDC has repaired the valve point and removed six other crude oil theft connections in its continuing efforts to maintain the integrity of the line. Also, the 24” TNP, which was shut down in a precautionary response to the fire on the 28”TNP has been reopened for production.
In a statement today, the Managing Director of SPDC and Country Chair Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu said: “Suggestions that we reacted slowly to the fire and spill are false.
At the earliest opportunity, we quickly mobilised teams to respond to a crude theft spill on the 28” TNP on June 10 and the explosion and fire on June 19. We conducted an assessment of the risks and decided, with the support of the JTF to enforce a restriction of access to the site for safety reasons. Our response and the actions we took at Bodo West were in the best interest of lives and the environment.”
SPDC has also dismissed suggestions that the TNP is not safe to operate. The line is operated in line with the company’s Pipeline Integrity Management System (PIMS), ensuring regular inspection and maintenance. The dominant cause of failures on the TNP has been third party damage resulting from sabotage (hacksaw cuts, drilled holes, etc) and illegal crude theft. In the past three years, a total of 25 leaks have been recorded on the facility – 23 of which were due to sabotage and two operational pinhole leaks.
Integrity assessments including Long Range Ultrasonic Test (LRUT) surveys, Cathodic Protection (CP) surveys, and chemical injection have been periodically performed on the pipelines. Also, SPDC has always made use of the opportunity presented during sabotage/crude theft point leak repairs to carry out on-the-spot coating and internal checks to confirm the integrity of the pipeline and coating.
Mr. Sunmonu said: “Shutting down the pipeline as has been suggested is not the answer. Our ability and competence to safely operate the pipeline has never been in doubt. The only way to ensure the TNP operates optimally without being shutdown regularly for repairs is to stop the thriving crude theft activities on both the 24” and 28” streams. All the data from the interventions and assessments in the pipeline integrity assessment process currently confirm that the pipelines are healthy and fit for service. Anyone who wants to see the information can log on to our spills website www.shellnigeria.com/spills .”
Mr. Sunmonu referred to the reported arrest of some employees of an SPDC service contractor on suspicion of crude theft on the TNP, and said: “We continue to cooperate with the JTF in the investigations. We have confidence that the arrested persons shall be treated in line with the principle of presumption of innocence and hope for a speedy and transparent dispensation of justice
He added: “As we have stated previously, crude theft has severe consequences lasting far beyond our lifetime. I have a personal stake in this tragedy having spent nearly all my adult and working life in the Niger Delta. The trend of crude theft will result in long-lasting damage to the wellbeing of present and future generations. All stakeholders who are genuinely interested in seeing this problem curtailed should join hands and stop this crime against the people and the environment of the Niger Delta.”
Note to editors:
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.
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.
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 practicable option in the circumstance was to allow the fire burn out naturally. The containment equipment onsite was destroyed in the explosion/fire. To prematurely extinguish the fire without functioning containment equipment would have resulted in increased 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. The leak site has subsequently undergone a joint investigation visit and complete repair. Site clean-up will be carried out in due course.