It used to be a Chevron natural gas rig in Nigeria. Now it is an inferno, entering its fourth week ablaze off Nigeria’s Atlantic coast, polluting nearby waters and making local people sick.
The fire began on Jan. 16, killing two workers and forcing Chevron Nigeria Limited to evacuate 152 others. In a statement on its website, the company says it does not know exactly what caused the fire, or how long it will take to extinguish it.
The Associated Press reports dead fish surfacing in surrounding waters and increasing skin and gastrointestinal problems reported among the Nigerians living in the villages on shore. At its hottest point, the fire is 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 730 degrees Celsius), which is “hot enough to soften steel.”
The increasing illnesses are a result of warmer water temperatures causing bacteria to grow rapidly, according to Dr. Oladipo Folorunso, the only doctor treating patients in Ikebiri, a town affected by the fire.
“The community here has no other source of water apart from the river water, which on its own isn’t even safe enough to drink, but the pollution has made the water even worse,” he told the AP.
International Business Times reports that on Jan. 26, company officials said the fire could take another month to extinguish. The company says plans to build a well to put out the fire have been finalized, and it is monitoring the environmental impact.
In a statement posted on Feb. 2, Chevron said it had hired people to search the beaches to for crude oil, and found none.
“The fire is still burning at the well, but continues to diminish,” reads the statement.
The company also said it was moving food and supplies into the area — home to tens of thousands of people — but Environmental Rights Action, a Nigerian activist group says the actions are not enough. The group called for increased government intervention, saying the fire is also having a political impact in Nigeria, a country already in turmoil.
“The failure of government to compel prompt actions has started generating bad blood among the youth,” reads a report posted on the Environmental Rights Action website.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 160 million people and the continent's largest oil exporter, is already facing several security crises, including near daily attacks from Islamist militants that have killed hundreds this year alone.
In a separate incident, President Goodluck Jonathan's government today identified seven suspects in an oil pipeline bombing over the weekend, and denied that a former rebel militia was responsible for the attack, according to Reuters.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) originally took credit for the attack on the Italian-owned pipeline, which stopped the flow of 4,000 barrels of oil daily. The group warned it was planning more attacks on foreign-owned entities in the Niger Delta. The government said criminal gangs posing as rebels were behind the attack, Reuters reports.
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