* 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 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
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.