Nigeria cautions Exxon Mobil on offshore oil spills

Tue Jun 15, 2010 3:44pm EDT

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* Offshore spills so far involve small amounts of oil

* Government concerned at frequency of spills

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, June 15 (Reuters) - Nigeria cautioned Exxon Mobil on Tuesday about oil spills off the Niger Delta, saying while the output lost was minor it was worried by their frequency and the damage they could do to fragile coastal communities.

Africa's biggest energy producer has had just over 2,400 oil spills involving its foreign oil partners since 2006, according to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), most of them onshore in the Niger Delta's creeks.

Many are caused by militant attacks or saboteurs seeking to tap into pipelines and siphon off oil.

But Environment Minister John Odey summoned Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) to a meeting with NOSDRA officials to discuss what the government said were a series of spills far offshore, where militant attacks and sabotage are infrequent.

"We are concerned about the operations of Exxon Mobil because once it is offshore, any spillage could of course affect the shoreline and it could go far beyond their areas of operation," Odey told reporters after the meeting.

"Exxon Mobil needs to show more caution in terms of the management of oil spills," he said.

The disaster seen in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, where millions of gallons of oil have spilled after an offshore rig blast blew out a BP Plc (BP.L) well, have heightened concerns about the environmental safety of offshore drilling around the world.

Nigeria's NOSDRA said the last spill, on May 1, had occurred at an Exxon platform some 20-25 miles (32-40 km) offshore which feeds the Qua Iboe oil export terminal. Previous spills had occurred last December and in February, according to the agency.

Exxon Mobil declared force majeure last month on Qua Iboe oil shipments due to what it said was damage to a pipeline.

The U.S. energy firm acknowledged there had been a spill on May 1 but disputed some of the claims made against it in a presentation during the Abuja meeting.

"Yes we had a spill ... but some of the things said and shown are not correct. Perhaps there is a communication gap and we will work towards bridging this gap," Aniefiok Etuk, Exxon Mobil's general manager for safety, health and environment in Nigeria, told reporters.

Nigeria has struggled to produce much above two thirds of its installed production capacity of 3 million barrels per day (bpd), most of it onshore, because of unrest in the Niger Delta.

Oil spills in the delta's creeks have been left to fester for decades, polluting the air, soil, and water of impoverished communities. [ID:nLDE65E0YZ]

Nigeria sees its future output growth largely in offshore fields and does not want spills there to compound its environmental woes.

NOSDRA's director of oil spill detection, Idris Musa, said the offshore spills so far had involved relatively small amounts of production but that it was starting to become a concern.

"Some of the spills are not large but the frequency is becoming a source of concern and worry to the agency," he said. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Jim Marshall)

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