Tuesday 7 February 2012

Chevron exploration rig still burning in the Niger Delta.

On 16 January 2012 the KS Endeavor, a Liberian flagged exploration drilling rig being operated in the Niger Delta by FODE Drilling Nigeria Ltd. on behalf of petrochemicals giant Chevron, caught fire after an explosion. 152 workers on the rig were evacuated with the help of local people, but two more, described as an Indian and a French National are still missing, and are now presumed to be dead. Two of the survivors are being treated for burns.

The fire on the KS Endeavor. Chevron/AP.

The KS Endeavor was carrying out exploratory drilling for natural gas on the Funiwa Field, about 10 km off the coast of Bayelsa State when it ran into trouble, apparently after a sudden increase in gas pressure. Local people involved in the rescue have described the incident as an 'industrial accident'. A Chevron spokesman has expressed gratitude to local communities for their help in evacuating survivors.

The fire has caused Chevron to halt production on the nearby North Apoi Oil Field until it can be extinguished. The rig has apparently been largely destroyed by the blaze, which persists as a gas flare. Chevron are hoping to drill a relief well to starve the flare of fuel, but this will need to be sunk to a depth of 2740 m, which will require about 30 days.

In the meantime local communities are complaining of mass fish die-offs, as well as widespread respiratory problems, skin complaints and gastrointestinal problems, and concerns have been raised that the heat from the fire might fuel bacterial or algal blooms, causing further environmental and health problems. The group Environmental Rights Action (ERA) reports that the fire has severely impaired the activities of local fishermen. Chevron has stated that it is providing food to local communities, but ERA have recorded this as 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of cassava flour, one cow, and unspecified amounts of vegetable, palm and groundnut oil, cartons of tomatoes and canned drinks, among the tens of thousands of residents in the effected area. Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency has also promised to send assistance to the afflicted area, but it is unclear what form this will take, or when it will arrive.

Environmental and human rights groups have frequently been extremely critical of both the Nigerian Government and foreign oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, citing the differences between the vast wealth produced by the oil industry and the extreme poverty of many people in areas from which oil is extracted, as well as the frequent environmental problems in the area.