For more than one month, the Chevron Funiwa 1A gas well has been burning uncontrollably off the coast of Nigeria.
I posted some information about this rig fire, caused by an apparent well blowout on January 16th. The fire claimed the lives of two rig workers. On January 26th, Chevron announced that the company was, “finalizing plans to commence drilling two relief wells.”
On February 18th, SweetCrude reported from Lagos that Chevron had started the drilling of the relief well:
Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) has begun the process of drilling a relief well to seal the Funiwa 1A natural gas well, which was hit by fire January 16, the company said in a statement in Lagos.
The relief well is being drilled to extinguish the fire at the original well, located approximately six miles (10 kilometres) off the coast of Nigeria.
According to the company, the drilling plans will enable the cementing and abandonment of the Funiwa 1A well.
Chevron Nigeria claims that, “no oil was spilled or has flowed from this natural gas well”. This claim contrasts with statements from local environmentalists as well as satellite imagery posted at SkyTruth.org.
We will likely never know how much, if any, oil spilled, nor how the fire and smoke have impacted local communities and fish stocks.
As I wrote in an iwatch news article last month, countries that are unable or unwilling to monitor the activities of oil companies are powerless to hold them accountable. They are totally dependent on oil companies to provide them with information and once they get this information, they must trust that it is correct as they do not have the means (or the will) to verify it.
One Nigerian editorialist, writing about the offshore Bonga field oil spill in December 2011, described the current situation clearly: “The polluter is strangely in charge of the regulators.”
This is a deplorable state of affairs that will only get worse as the drilling boom continues across the Gulf of Guinea — and the entire African continent. The environmental risks of drilling are significant and have major economic implications. Governments that choose to focus only on revenues, while leaving oversight in the hands of the oil companies, are playing an extremely dangerous game.