Health, safety issues in Nigeria’s oil, gas sector

Health and safety have continued to be priority issues for the Nigeria oil and gas industry, as they are germane to the sector’s overall success.

Multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria have been severely criticised by both local and international pressure groups for engaging in unwholesome health, safety and environmental practices; resulting in widespread ecological disturbances, including pollution from pipe-line leaks; blowouts; drilling fluids and refinery effluents; land alienation; and disruption of the natural terrain during oil and gas operations.

Protests from host communities have escalated into all-out assaults in various forms on oil companies and their workers, exemplified by raids on both onshore and offshore oil facilities and infrastructure, shut- downs of oil wells, and recurrent cases of kidnapping of workers by rebel groups.

These have engendered an atmosphere of insecurity in the sector and brought to the forefront the issues of health, safety and environmental management.

Concerned about the issues of health, safety and environment in the country’s oil and gas sector, an indigenous company – Arrowville Energy Limited organised a workshop for stakeholders in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.

Speakers at the workshop, who included the Chief Executive Officer of Knowledge Reservoir Inc, Houston, Texas, Dr. Ivor Ellul, Executive Chairman, Arrowville Energy Limited, Abiola Sowole, Dr. Donald Ibebuike from University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom and the Dean of Student Affairs and Lecturer, Petroleum & Gas Department, University of Lagos, Akota, Prof. O Amund, believed that government, operators and communities have roles to play in ensuring health and safety in oil and gas sector.

Ibebuike said that to forestall offshore safety calamity, oil-bearing governments have endeavoured to set up offshore regulatory framework for operators in the industry to adhere to.

He observed therefore that the regulations were made without contemplating the peculiar technical and environmental challenges in offshore petroleum operations.

“Consequently, health and safety offshore without adequate rules and standards to safeguard its implementation is left entirely at the hands of the operators who might be tempted by commercial gains to compromise safety,” he noted.

He noted that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which enforces health and safety standards in the oil sector, is also the same body that oversees the economic regulation of the industry thus giving room for conflict of interest.

Ibebuike said that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) fails to correct this anomaly completely but only creates two bodies – the Inspectorate and the agency to regulate the Upstream and the downstream sectors respectively as against a single body – the DPR as operated currently.

This, he noted, negates the current world approach which is directed towards the establishment of an independent body solely for enforcement of health, safety and environmental regulations as against the current regime of fusing enforcement of health and safety standards in the body that regulates the economic development of the industry.

He stated that the country’s laws on health and safety are outdated, which he said, he made it easy for operators to violate the rules.

He stated, “licensee or lessee who fails to comply with the health and safety law are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N100 or to imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to both.

“The punishment for failure to comply with Section 3 is illusory and not sufficient to deter a licensee/lessee from infringing the Section. This underscores the point that the law on health and safety is outdated and needs thorough review to reflect current realities.

Cases of preventable accident in offshore operations

Nigeria recorded several preventable accidents in its offshore operations in the past few years, which Amund believed would have been avoided if there were proper safety precautions.

According to Amund, fire broke out aboard the Chevron’s Funiwa North Apoi shallow-water jack up drilling rig in 2012, which was classified as the worst gas blow-out in Nigeria. About 154 personnel were on the rig and a support barge and two lives were lost while several others sustained injuries.

“Also, Funiwa five well operated by TOPCON experienced a blow out, which resulted to an estimated 146,000 barrels of oil spilled into the ocean during the two weeks blow out.

“The Amni International’s Armada Perkas FPSO, which occurred in 2012 as a result of the use of inappropriate use of the password system for the shutdown”.

Ibebuike noted that the recent tug boat, Jascon four that capsised in May 2013 offshore Escravos Nigeria, while performing towing operations for Chevron and killed 11 crew could have been averted if the owners of the ship had upgrade its safety jackets in line with this directives.

He noted,  “the directive was issued and full compliance was expected, but in disregard for safety, the owners of the tug boat failed to upgrade safety requirements and Chevron on its part failed to insist on such safety measures being in place before employing the vessel.”

He said that the incident underscores the importance of the directive on Man Overboard and also an indictment on the regulatory body’s ability to effectively and expeditiously enforce its standards and policies.

“Moreso, the directive does not provide for any sanction in the even of a default thus making compliance absolutely discretionary,” he added.

Effective safety compliance

Speaking on the way out, Ibebuike stressed the need for DPR to ensure that efforts are directed towards periodic reporting of safety measures by the operators, adequate monitoring and verification to ensure compliance and independent third party inspection of the design and construction of wells in order to satisfy itself that adequate safety measures to prevent hydrocarbon releases and major well blowout are taken.

He added, “an independent agency separate from DPR that oversees economic regulation of the sector should be created to regulate offshore health, safety and environmental standards in line with the current international best practice.

“To this end, National Assembly is being called upon to reflect this in the PIB pending before it. The regulator should endeavour to set up a dedicated website for publishing Health and Safety Regulations, Directives and Standards for easy access. This would encourage studies and research, which will ultimately lead to an improvement of the existing system.

“The regulatory body should carry out physical inspection of offshore installations to ensure that process safety and asset integrity are being maintained by the operators. Efforts should be directed towards ensuring that offshore workers are trained to gain competence on safety measures and learn dynamics of the industry.

“Workforce involvement in offshore health, safety and environmental monitoring and implementation should be encouraged through a legal framework. The regulator should ensure consultation and collaboration with the industry to ensure that health and safety regulations and directives are being implemented without compromise.

Government should endeavour to set up an investigative committee to unravel the cause of any accident/incident offshore with a view to advancing health and safety measures from the lessons learnt.

“Outcome of such investigations should be made public to encourage further studies and research. The envisaged Regulations, Standards and Guidelines to be made pursuant to the PIB should incorporate the observed deficiencies in the offshore health and safety regulation.”

Information from The Guardian was used in this report.


Kabir Ismail is a blogger, website developer/administrator and a comrade.

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