* Exxon apologises, says clean up unit mobilised
* Second major oil spill near Exxon facility in three 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 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 km)
from a pipeline that Exxon had shut down because of a leak a
week ago. Locals scooped it into jerry cans.
Mark Ward, the managing director of ExxonMobil's local unit,
said a clean up had been mobilised, and he apologised to
affected communities for the spill.
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, plants were poking out of the
slick, not yet dead and blackened by the 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 disruptions at
onshore sites due to oil theft and Nigeria's worst flooding in
"Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN) regrets this incident. Our
teams are being mobilised to clean up the area," Ward said in a
statement emailed to Reuters.
"We apologise for the inconveniences that it has caused."
One fisherman described noticing a large quantity of oil on
the surface of the sea and all over the beach the Friday before
last, adding that the company has since sprayed chemicals in the
water, which was helping to 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.
"Our prayers are for tough punishment on the oil companies
operating the Niger Delta," said Inyang Ekong, the secretary of
the fishermen's association, as the car he was in swept past oil
washing up onto beaches in an area called Ibeno.
Oil major BP Plc this week agreed to pay $4.5
billion in penalties for spilling nearly 5 million barrels of
oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite thousands of barrels a year
spilt by oil majors in Nigeria, none has ever been forced to
make a financially significant settlement.
Some communities are now attempting to sue for compensation
from Shell in Western courts.
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 caught fire on Sept. 30, spreading a blaze
across several oil and gas installations.