Chevron rig fire triggers health problems
February 7, 2012 by Agency Reporter

The burning inferno of what used to be a Chevron Corporation’s natural gas rig still stains the night’s sky more than two weeks after the rig caught fire, and no one can say when it will end as swarms of dead fish surface.

Associated Press reports on Monday that the environmental damage is hitting a region whose poor still rely on the delta’s muddy waters for survival. A nearby clinic remains overrun with patients who are showing up with skin irritations and gastrointestinal problems.

“The community here has no other source of water apart from the river water, which on its own isn’t even safe enough to drink, but the pollution has made the water even worse,” Dr. Oladipo Folorunso, the only doctor in Ikebiri, said.

Folorunso attributed the illnesses to the burning rig, as rising temperatures in water can cause bacteria to thrive. A satellite image showed that the fire at a point was at least 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 730 degrees Celsius), “hot enough to soften steel,” an independent watchdog group called SkyTruth said.

The fire began on January 16 from a shallow-water gas well for Chevron’s Nigerian subsidiary near its North Apoi oil platform. The accident killed two foreign workers and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Chevron says it continues to investigate what started the fire but is not offering any estimate on how long it will burn.

The Federal Government believes a “gas kick” — a major build-up of gas pressure from drilling — was responsible, Dr. Levi Ajuonoma, a spokesman for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, said.

In Koluama 1, a community less than 10 kilometres from the fire, the traditional ruler said Chevron and the Federal Government were not doing enough to address the problem.

“We need the Federal Government to come in,” Jeremiah T. C. Leghemo said. “These relief materials are provided by Chevron because the state government prevailed on Chevron to provide them, but the people are suffering.”

Chevron said last week that it was moving “food and supplies to the communities in the area to recognise the help and support that they have given us.”

A report by local watchdog, Environmental Rights Action, said the area — home to tens of thousands of people — received 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of cassava flour, one cow, vegetable oil, palm and groundnut oil, cartons of tomatoes and canned drinks.

The Federal Government is still putting together help for the community, Yushau Shuaib, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, said. He could not immediately say what the materials would include.

It also remains unclear when the fire will be put out. Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, has said that it would take 30 days to drill to total depth of 9,000 feet (2,740 metres) to create a relief well that would help put out the fire.

The company on Thursday said it had finished its drilling plans. When pressed to say how long it would take to extinguish the fire, it declined to comment.

“We cannot predict how long the process will take, but what we can tell you is we will do so as quickly as possible, while continuing to maintain safe operations,” the company said in a statement.

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