As the spill offshore Nigeria works its way to shore, the lack of information about what is actually happening is depressingly familiar.
Shell reports that less than 40,000 barrels were spilled (at 42 gallons per barrel, that’s something like 1.6 million gallons), but there’s no way to verify that information. Shell posted a photo of the source of the spill, a rupture in the line that carries oil from the offshore storage facility (the FPSO) to oil tankers.
All information is coming from Shell as the Nigerian government does not have the capacity to oversee the offshore operations. Shell took journalists on a helicopter trip today to see the Bonga field about 120 km offshore and announced that clean up crews had discovered another spill while working on controlling this one.
Shell also announced today that the offshore spill at the Bonga field was contained before reaching land, but, again, there is no way to verify any of this information. How much spilled, what happened to the oil, amount of dispersants used — the only information people have comes directly from Shell.
The spill may be the worst offshore incident since 1998 when ExxonMobil dumped close to 40,000 barrels from an offshore platform. Reuters reports that the response has nonetheless been muted and cites a Greenpeace spokesman who talks of double standards: spills in Nigeria just don’t get much attention, period.
You can read updates from Shell here: Shell Nigeria Bonga oil leak updates
Skytruth, a non-profit environmental organization that promotes awareness through remote sensing and digital mapping, has posted several satellite images of the spill. You can see them here: Skytruth
A blog post on Skytruth, “Shell Oil Spill Nigeria: FPSOs coming to the US,” also points out that the first FPSO has been authorized in the Gulf of Mexico. FPSOs — floating production, storage and offloading vessels — are for the most part refitted oil tankers. Like the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah in use in the Jubilee field, the FPSO in use in Nigeria’s Bonga field holds the oil pumped up from the underwater wells until tankers haul it away. The blog post points out that FPSOs are “potentially sources of massive oil spills.” If an arriving tanker were to crash into a FPSO, millions of barrels of oil could possibly be released.