The Nigeria Agip Oil
Company (NAOC), the Itahani oil prospecting giant may have lost over 1.5million barrels of crude oil following successive explosions that lasted for three days that rocked its Ebocha oil centre located at Okwuzi/Mgbede axis in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Similarly, crude oil production which stands at 20,000 bpd has been stalled as the facility jointly owned by the federal government, NAOC and Oando now runs at zero capacity as workers mill around the facility apparently waiting for the next line of action.
Investigations by The Tide confirmed that while there is so much anxiety amongst staff of the company, the devastation caused by the explosions left extensive environmental impact on host and neighbouring communities of Mgbede, Okwuzi, Aggah, Abacheke, Abaezi Etekwuru spreading across Rivers and Imo States.
Our correspondents who visited the site and communities in the neighbourhood witnessed extensive damages to the eco-system, buildings, rivers, farms and livestocks as curious locals re-locate to other communities for safety.
The Tide also discovered that aquatic life in the area was adversely impacted as crude oil flow freely in fish ponds, wells and streams while economic trees and crops were not left out. Crops and trees now look pale.
While narrating their ordeal to our crew, natives threatened to shut-down all operations of the oil firm, if immediate relief materials and remedial measures are not put in place soonest.
Interviews with a cross section of indigenes, including the traditional rulers and community committees revealed that four days after the disaster, Agip nor any other agency, government or non-governmental bodies, were yet to respond or send relief materials to the locals.
Mr Augustine Ahiamadu, chairman, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local government area who visited the site condemned Agip’s insensitivity to the plight of the host communities and wondered if Agip ever has the capacity to handle the situation.
Mr Ahiamadu said the council has declared the area a disaster area and also communicated the National Emergency Management Agency alerting it of the disaster and its inherent impact on the people and implications on the environment.
He expressed disappointment over the way and manner of response by the Italian oil giant and affirmed that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be carried out to ascertain the magnitude of the explosions.
Similarly, Eze Chadwick Ogor, the Ezeali (Ogbagu) of Mgbede said the area was enveloped by huge flame and smoke for three days and people were thrown out of their sleeping beds by the explosion while buildings quaked, distorting the foundations of structures around host communities.
Eze Ogor explained that three successive explosions occurred on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, leaving locals in confusion and called for immediate provision of potable water, food, medicals and other relief materials as palliatives for the people.
The Mgbede paramount ruler also wants a comprehensive re-appraisal of NAOC’s operation in the area and a review of Agip’s relations with host communities and stakeholders, contending that Agip has no EIA of its operations since it commenced petroleum prospection in 1963 in the area.
He blamed Agip’s poor maintenance culture for the disaster, affirming that the explosion may have been occasioned by equipment and system failure and not sabotage. Ogor, however, said that a Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) comprising Agip, host communities and government agencies will soon access the area for inspection while a technical team would be engaged to ascertain the extent of impact on the environment and the people.
His counterpart, Eze Chukwuma Nwanuka, Ezeali (Oruamara) of Okunzi also said that they were on top of the situation as efforts were on top gear to forestall further devastation, adding that several contacts had been made to sensitise and resettle impacted indigenes.
A landlord to NAOC, Engr Nelson Ekperi urged the company to take immediate interim measures to ameliorate and cushion the effects on the people directly affected.
Ekperi who hails from Umuohu village in Okwuzi community, an immediate landlord of the oil centre said that other processes over settlement and compensation will follow subsequently.
He cautioned Agip’s management not to take the peaceful disposition of the people for granted as indigenes may resort to self-help and violence, if they were not adequately pacified.
The explosion may have also attracted federal government’s attention as a federal legislator representing the area, Hon. Prince Uche Nnam Obi also visited the site. It is believed that he will relate with federal agencies and National Assembly over the tragedy.
The explosion may affect Nigeria oil production as no immediate solution of resumption of production is in sight. Depletion of crude oil earnings with its far-reaching exploitations in the nation’s economy is expected.
An Agip staff who pleaded anonymity said that preliminary investigations were yet to ascertain if the blasts were caused by equipment failure or sabotage but, however, confirmed that management was working round the clock to handle the disaster.
He lamented the impact of the explosions on the primary feeding and drinking sources of the people. He, however, affirmed that the company has a standing policy on issues relating to emergencies such as the case in question he revealed that Agip was seriously studying the situation.
On the issue of relief materials to the people directly impacted, he said, the company was not in a hurry to rush into such gesture because the firm handles sabotage or equipment failure cases differently.
He, however, empatised with all those directly or indirectly affected, noting that the tragedy was really enormous and beyond mere words. According to him, “Agip has never witnessed or recorded such enormity of loss since its operations in Egbema nearly 50 years ago.”
He further declared that Agip’s management was yet to recover from the shock occasioned by the blasts that razed virtually all facilities at the plant site.
When our team visited the impacted communities, it was lamentations, pains, tears and agonies amongst inhabitants who crave for immediate palliatives to alleviate their ordeal. The primary source of living, farming and fishing as well as source of water were all severally affected.
A local farmer, Mr Austin Amadi showed our crew the devastation on his farm. The economic trees and crops were looking grey as a result of the intense heat from the blasts.
He also drew attention to acidic rain on his crops and opined that people might get cancer due to the poisous rain contaminated by emissions from the oil centre.
It was noticed that there were cracks on buildings and structures within the host communities.
In the same vein, aquatic life in some rivers in the area affected and the primary source of drinking water and other domestic uses were impacted as one could see carbon substances floating.
The Tide also visited some clinics and hospitals and confirmed an influx of patients with varying degree of ailments, especially respiratory related cases.
Meanwhile, the management of NAOC has not issued any official statement on the blasts. Officials contacted preferred to keep sealed lips on the issue, perhaps pending the outcome of investigations and the proposed Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) by the company and other stakeholders and host communities.
It is expected that the JIV will hold before the end of the week.
The company merely condoned off the facility depriving people from accessing the site. It also beefed up security around the oil centre to ensure safety of lives and property.
Three giant crude oil tanks (reservoirs) containing hundreds of thousands of crude oil product were involved in the blasts that also affected a network of pipelines conveying petroleum products to oil terminals.