From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

Fears have gripped residents of Elebele community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State following suspected leakage of gas from pipelines owned by different oil companies operating in the area.  

Elebele shares boundaries with Imiringi and Otuasega communities in the same local government. It is also home to installations from major oil companies. The exposure to incessant gas leakage has put them under constant trepidation of fire outbreak.

Mr Godfery Profit Obi who witnessed a gas leakage in May 2021 said: “Elebele is at risk of a major calamity if most of the pipelines that are close to the road and houses of people are not taken care of. I work with the Elebele Council of Chiefs and Elders. We have continued to witness gas leakage from oil pipelines.  

“Some of these pipelines convey gas and crude oil.  This is something very dangerous to human life because the pipelines are very close to the road.  Most often the leakages are serious and are accompanied by some noise. We do take pictures and record video shots to send to relevant authorities.”

He confirmed that the last gas leakage from the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) was put off when the community alerted the oil company: “Oil companies should not wait till there is gas leakage from their pipelines before they monitor and conduct safety surveillance on their facilities.

 Chima Franklin, tricycle operator, said: “Danger is lurking in the corner if oil companies do not put close eye on their facilities especially oil pipelines which leak gas. My experience recently was a terrible on. On that day I was passing a particular spot, carrying passengers.

“When I passed through the environment where gas had saturated the place, it was terrible. The noise was too much and the smoke gas spewing into the environment was much. I thought it was my tyre that burst so I stopped to check around.

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“It was a leakage of gas around that area. My passengers were afraid.  And they urged me to move them away from that environment before there would be fire. All those that passed the area, in cars and tricycle that day were scared.”

Adviser on Youth Matters to the Chief of Elebele, Mr Fidelis Alabo-Iti, said: “If you look at the environment where the pipelines are situated, it is obvious that it would be very easy for vandals to take advantage of the bushy situation to perpetrate such acts of vandalism. My advice to the youths of Elebele community is for them to be very vigilant.”

The Environmental Rights Action and Friends of The Earth (ERA/FoEN), lamented the unending pollution of the environment and the constant risk the people are subjected to. Its programme officer, Mr Morris Alagoa, said: “Oil industry induced pollution in the Niger Delta has continued through its different forms such as gas flaring, oil spills, gas leaks or blowouts, drilling chemicals, etc.

“Apart from gas flaring known to be going on 24/7 onshore and offshore, it cannot be far from the truth that the other sources of pollution from the oil industry are also continuing 24 hours and seven days of the week at different locations. 

“Unless the civil society, community folks and the media make these known to the general public; it would appear as if they have ceased to occur in our environment. This is so because neither the regulators nor oil companies are favourably disposed to letting the public know.

“At the Elebele gas leak site, ERA/FoEN field monitor was surprised to know that such oil/gas bearing pipelines are laid along that stretch of land. With the pipeline having overgrown shrubs and grasses, only those who actually knows the exact spots the oil/gas pipeline was laid could trace and dig the real spots and execute their mission; aided by bushy environment for cover. According to one of those who led ERA/FoEN to the site, the pipes on this pipeline were replaced not long ago; meaning they are new pipes.

“That the signs of digging were very obvious and it is a testimony that the vandals took advantage of the bushy environment to perpetrate the act. Even though the site of gas leak was close to the relatively busy road, it was nice to know that there has been no fire incident.”

He urged oil companies to do self-appraisal and weed off contractors that have been compromised and ruin the reputation of the company. He also appealed to the people of Elebele to be vigilant and ensure that unscrupulous community members or strangers do not perpetrate acts that would tarnish the good image of the community.