Well Control Expert Disputes Two Million Barrels’ Oil Leak in Bayelsa

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•Company cautious not to spark disastrous fire

•Begins mop-up of hydrocarbons around spill spot

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

A Well Control Specialist, Victor Ekpenyong working on the site of the Santa Barbara oil spill in Nembe, Bayelsa, yesterday disputed that at least two million barrels of crude oil had been discharged into the environment in the area.

The facility currently under well control situation due to what Aiteo, described as “wellhead vandalism” by unknown persons was reported on November 5, 2021, and currently being worked on by wild well control experts, to arrest the source of leak and secure the well.

Ekpenyong stated that the well was last known to be producing about 700bpd of hydrocarbon fluid and would as of yesterday, had spilled an estimated volume of about 18,000bpd of hydrocarbon fluid to the environment as against the two million barrels of oil he said was wrongly reported.

According to the expert, the operator, Aiteo Eastern E&P Company deserves commendation for being very active in containing the spill since it started, by immediately informing all regulatory agencies and stakeholders, mobilising containment resources (spill booms) to limit impact to the environment and carrying out a Joint Investigative Visit (JIV) to site with the appropriate authorities.

He commended the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva and Governor of Bayelsa state, Douye Diri, for finding time to visit the spill site and assessing the current situation as well as the management of Aiteo which he said immediately went to work.

As an insider, he stated that Aiteo in its quest to arrest the situation engaged an experienced well control expert company with industry best equipment whose recent accomplishment in wild well control was in April this year with one of the marginal field operators in a swamp location on a well with worst but “similar vandalised” situation than the current one.

Ekpenyong added that well control equipment was deployed, and the well was brought under control without further damage, safety incident or fatality.

“The well control situation is being worked on and the well will be brought under control soonest. The most important thing during well control is having the expertise, equipment, resources, and the exercise of patience.

“ All these factors must be put in place to ensure the operation is done safely without further damage or fatality as this is a very dangerous environment as it is.

“We have had several wild well control situations in the country, for instance the K.S. Endeavour fatal well control incident in January 2012 which took about two months for proper planning and execution of well control strategies before it was successfully killed and secured.

“The recent and similar wild well successfully killed and secured by the engaged well control experts took about a month of planning and execution amidst the challenges faced working in the creek to successfully achieve.

“Also, the Deepwater Horizon wellhead blowout of the Gulf of Mexico incident which lasted for more than five months is worse than this and cannot be compared as it had a total spill of about 4.9 million barrels of hydrocarbon fluid to the environment,” he maintained.

He explained that similarly, proper planning and execution was ongoing on the current well and “soonest” the wild well will be brought under control without any safety incident or fatality.

“All that is required at this time is a call for calm and patience by all stakeholders and a joint effort to encourage the ongoing effort to secure the well by Aiteo and we the well control experts,” he noted.

Earlier, it was learnt that the delay in the final shutdown of the leaking Santa Barbara wellhead was partly caused by the need to avoid sparking fire that will be more devastating than the current gas spill.

Aiteo Eastern Exploration & Production Company (AEEPCO) had last Thursday said its “well kill” at the wellhead were well on course, having fully mobilised to site with the arrival of its international partners.

A statement by the Group Managing Director of the company, Victor Okoronkwo, noted that the containment exercise was continuing, with booms and environmental barges mopping up spilled crude and with all relevant personnel and experts, now on location.

Okoronkwo explained that the marine spread carrying the pumps, chemicals, cranes and firefighting equipment are now 100 per cent mobilised and had started sail to location.

But THISDAY gathered yesterday that despite the presence of the experts , special caution was being taken to carry out the step-by-step shutting down of the dormant well which has been spewing mostly gas and a lesser quantity of oil, because it may lead to bigger problems if not handled carefully.

“It’s easy to attack these people , but this is a special spill. They have put everything in place for containment. Government agencies and regulators are trying as much as they can to bring the situation under control,” the source said.

It added: “ This is not even a crude oil blowout as such. It’s 80 per cent gas and 20 per cent oil. Even the number of barrels it’s said to be spilling do not add up. We are doing everything to bring this matter to a close.

“The pressure is quite high so what is happening is that they are trying to avert a calamity. So, they need to reduce the high pressure first. But I am sure in hours or days, this episode will be put behind. All the experts are on ground” the source added.

Last Thursday, AITEO said it had deployed a 2 x 1000MT ramp barge containing simulation equipment for the well kill, while a well control package had been transferred onto the well platform as members from its operations internal team as well as Boots & Coot remain at the well site for the well control operations.

A status update on the site as at 1 December 2021, indicated that line-up and preparation to pump in kill fluid had commenced, but was temporarily halted when information was received that Governor Douye Diri was visiting.

Consequently, the crew moved out of the well slot to cordon the area so that governor’s entourage will not move beyond the safe zone and waited on the governor to finish his visit.

There was resumed line-up after the departure of the governor during which pumping resumed, but there was temporary discontinuation as the tide was low, prompting work stoppage for the day .

The forward plan for today (Thursday) according to the status update received late last night, showed that the schedule would be to scoop and mop up hydrocarbon around wellhead as well as commencement of pumping of kill fluid through the short string.