DAKAR, Senegal (Dow Jones)-- Chevron extinguished a fire at the natural gas rig KS Endeavor that had been burning off Nigeria's shore for 46 days, Friday, the company said Tuesday, but that hasn't damped down complaints about the company from villagers along the nearby coast.
Neither promises of relief from Nigeria's government nor a Feb. 27 visit from President Goodluck Jonathan have quelled frustrations in the seaside village of Koluama. Chevron's natural gas rig, five nautical miles from Koluama's white sand shore, exploded on Jan. 16, starting a gas-fueled fire on the ocean surface that neither the U.S.-based company nor the government of Africa's top crude producer could promptly put out.
Residents here complained of air, water, and fish that taste of kerosene as the plume of smoke hovered within sight offshore.
They're asking Chevron to relocate the approximately 10,000 people in the surrounding community--a request that cuts against long-standing religious ties to land in Nigeria's oil-rich marshland.
Mostly, residents say their livelihood--fishing--has been spoiled by the gas fire.
"The gas is inside the fish," the youth chairman for the village, Bravely Salvage said. "After eating the fish you feel like somebody who drunk diesel, you feel dizzy...some of us collapse."
Nigeria's latest rig disaster is the sort of damaging ecological incident local militants used to point to in justifying their decades-long conflict with their government and the oil companies that drill here. By 2009, a loose coalition of militants managed to sabotage 75 percent of Nigeria's output, and, briefly, its mantle as Africa's top oil exporter.
The grievances following the gas rig fire come as a reminder that conditions remain frustratingly slow to change.
"Nothing has changed in the Niger Delta...The environmental issues are worse," said Annkio Briggs, an environmental activist and former liaison for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a collection of oil militants. "Sooner or later, people will react...This is a fool's peace."
In a statement, Chevron said that no natural gas had been detected flowing from the well since it ceased burning.
Chevron said its own tests hadn't found any impact of pollution in the air or water, but added it would contract investigators from a nearby Nigerian university to conduct further studies.
"We share the concerns of the people of Nigeria about this incident and what caused it," spokesman Russell Johnson said. The company, he added, is donating medical supplies to the local state government.
The fire began just 24 days after Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) announced it had contained an oil spill of 40,000 barrels--Nigeria's worst spill in the 13 years. Even before that spill, in August, the United Nations Environment Program published an estimation of what it would take to clean oil from the Nigeria's river deltas: 30 years and $1 billion.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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