Nigeria Exxon spill spreads for miles along coast

Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:43pm IST

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* Second major oil spill near Exxon facility in 3 months

* A raft of production problems has hit Nigeria's output

By Tife Owolabi

IBENO, Nigeria, Nov 17 (Reuters) - An oil spill at an ExxonMobil facility offshore from the oil-rich Niger Delta has spread at least 20 miles from its source, coating waters used by fishermen in a film of sludge.

A Reuters reporter visiting several parts of Akwa Ibom state saw a rainbow-tinted oil slick stretching for 20 miles (32 kilometres) from a pipeline that Exxon had shut down because of a leak a week ago. Locals scooped it into jerry cans.

Exxon officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Exxon said last Sunday it had shut a pipeline off the coast of Akwa Ibom state after an oil leak whose cause was unknown.

"This is the worst spill in this community since Exxon started its operations in the area," said Edet Asuquo, 40, a fisherman in the Mkpanak community, as women scooped oil into buckets. In some marshy areas, green plants were poking out of the slick, not yet dead and blackened by the newly arrived oil.

"The fishermen cannot fish any longer and have no alternative means of survival," Asuquo said.

The U.S. major's outage comes on top of multiple production problems in Africa's biggest crude exporter, after fellow oil majors Shell and Eni reported recent disruptions at onshore sites due to oil theft and Nigeria's worst flooding in 50 years.

One fisherman described noticing a large quantity of oil on the surface of the seas and all over the beach the Friday before last, adding that the company has since sprayed chemicals in the water which was helping disperse it.

It was the second major oil spill near Exxon facilities in three months. At the end of August, an oil spill left a slick running for miles along the coast.

Oil spills are common in Nigeria, where enforcement of environmental regulations is lax and armed gangs frequently damage pipelines to steal crude -- oil majors say thieves are responsible for most of the spills on shore.

A U.N. report in August last year criticised the government and multinational oil firms for 50 years of oil pollution that has devastated the Ogoniland region, and some communities are attempting to sue for compensation in Western courts.

"Our prayers are for tough punishment on the oil companies operating the Niger Delta," said secretary of the fishermen's association Inyang Ekong, as the car he was in swept past oil washing up onto beaches in an area called Ibeno.

A raft of production outages has caused export delays to Nigerian crude to lengthen, as the country's number one export suffers acutely, oil traders say.

Shell still has a force majeure in place on Forcados and Bonny Light crude oil grades after a tanker being used to steal oil set ablaze on Sept. 30, spreading fire across several oil and gas installations.

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