Lagos - French oil firm Total SA said on Saturday that a natural gas leak at one of its plants in Nigeria's crude-rich southern delta may have been going on for weeks.
The leak at its Obite natural gas site has forced the company to evacuate those nearby and led to daily monitoring of air and water surrounding the plant in Nigeria's Rivers state. However, Total's Nigerian subsidiary hasn't made any public statement about the leak since it likely began following an incident on 20 March, though the company has given near-daily updates about a similar leak at a plant off the United Kingdom in the North Sea.
In a statement, Total's Nigerian subsidiary said workers noticed a mix of water and natural gas bubbling up from an uninhabited site near the Obite plant on 3 April. Total said there had been no injuries from the leaks, which it said likely followed the "technical incident" on 20 March.
Total spokesperson Charles Ebereonwu said on Saturday he did not have details of the incident.
Impact on the environment
"All necessary means to ensure the protection of nearby communities and personnel and to limit the impact on the environment have been immediately mobilised," Total said in a statement on its subsidiary's website dated on Thursday. "Strict monitoring of the environment is ongoing and a safety perimeter has been established."
The statement said testing has not found any "toxic elements" in the environment.
Rumors about an accident at a Total operation have circulated in Nigeria for weeks, though the company remained silent.
Asked why the company hadn't publicised the Obite gas plant leak, Ebereonwu said Total's Nigerian subsidiary had been posting updates on its website. However, the company has not sent any information to journalists.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with more than 160 million residents, is a top energy supplier to the US. The OPEC member nation also has seen foreign oil firms boost production of natural gas in recent years.
However, environmental and industry regulations lag behind spills and violence in its oil-rich Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of Portugal. Some environmentalists say much as 2.1 billion litres of oil have spilled during more than 50 years of production. That would be at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year in a region where oil still stains beaches and waterways.