Chevron Nigeria gas well fire may burn for months

A gas-fuelled fire, with flames as high as 5m, may burn for months in waters off the Niger Delta in south-east Nigeria, Chevron has said. Two workers died after January’s explosion at the KS Endeavour exploration rig, owned by the US firm. Friends of the Earth says this is the world’s worst such accident in recent years.

Chevron spokesman Lloyd Avram says, despite the fire, the situation is now under control and no oil is leaking. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa. Looking on, it was like watching a volcano erupting, fire spewing in every direction. On a boat 50m from the fire, we saw black bubbles rise to the surface and black smoke spread into the air. Chevron had previously assured me there was no black smoke since the time a little fuel spilled just after the explosion in January.

The new deputy state governor, on a visit of Koluama in Bayelsa State, was surprising critical of Chevron. He said the firm should have been better prepared for the accident. The company is trying to put out the fire by piercing a hole in the original gas well – through which cement will be poured. “There’ll be 10,000ft of drilling and interestingly we need to hit an area that is approximately 12sq inches,” Mr Avram said. “It is going to take some time, but I cannot predict how long that is going to be – conceivably months,” he said. Scientists are conducting tests to find out if local food and water has been contaminated by the gas in the ocean – after local people raised concerns. Almost 100 people have left towns close to the fire and local chiefs are asking Chevron to relocate more. A major build-up of gas pressure from drilling caused the explosion that set the rig on fire in the middle of January, according to the NNPC.