On Sunday, the Bayelsa Government Technical Committee on the November 5 oil leak at Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 in Nembe refuted charges of sabotage.
The OML 29 oil block is operated by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company, an indigenous oil company that bought the asset for $2.4 billion when Shell Petroleum Development Company divested it in 2015.
According to the Nigerian News Agency (NAN), regulatory agencies investigating the issue blamed the leak on sabotage on December 22, while the Bayelsa committee blamed it on equipment failure.
The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission and the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) are the regulators (NUPRC).
In a statement, Biriyai Dambo, chair of the Technical Committee, dismissed the claim and criticized the procedures used to reach the conclusions.
Mr Dambo, who is also the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Bayelsa, stated that the parties’ differing viewpoints could not be reconciled, making the Joint Investigative Visit (JIV) inconclusive.
The JIV is a statutory investigation that follows up on every reported leak to figure out what caused it and how much oil was released into the environment.
The JIV is normally called by the facility’s operator and consists of representatives from the oil company, impacted communities, regulators, and the state Ministry of Environment.
Mr Dambo pointed out that the components and accessories of the wellhead that were to be inspected had been removed and changed, implying that the equipment and evidence had been tampered with.
According to the statement, similar episodes of oil spills from the same Santa Barbara Wellhead 1 in OML 29 in 2018 and 2019 occurred, but to a smaller extent, as Aiteo previously disclosed.
The committee expressed disappointment that Aiteo and NOSDRA had yet to implement or enforce any remediation or precautions against future recurrence in relation to the incidents.
Until this massive rupture in November, the impacted towns’ requests for repair of previous spills were denied, according to the statement.
“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.
“We are convinced that NOSDRA and NUPRC are biased and are playing a script in cahoot 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.
Mr Dambo stated that the Bayelsa government believes that equipment failure caused the leak and that it will take all necessary actions to seek environmental justice for itself and the impacted people.
He claims that such a remedy will eliminate environmental degradation caused by “reckless and irresponsible oilfield practice that is condoned by a weak or compromised regulatory system”.