By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan’s petroleum minister has said that an oil spill from a pipeline last month which polluted several areas of former Unity state has been contained, but warned more oil pipelines rupture as the country makes plans to boost oil production.
Of recently, residents of Budang County reported that a pipeline had ruptured, causing the oil to contaminate the environment. Photos circulating on social media show the leakage has had adverse effect on the environment.
Speaking to a press for the first time since the oil pipeline broke on Sept. 25, Oil Minister Awow Daniel Chuang said the oil spill was contained after Greater Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC) dispatched foreign experts to the scene last week.
Chuang describe a recent deformity oil leakage as ‘normal issue,’ but says it was caused by aging pipelines which is currently under control.
“A Russian repair team from the company GOPC went to the site and they contained the leakage because the pipeline has been constructed a long time ago and is aging and as it ages, weak points always develop,” said Chuang.
“Leak had been contained and “what is left for us now to clean is the soil in that area.” “Of course we know that the production has been down for the last five years and the pipeline was empty and probably was filled with water (that) can expedite the process of corrosion within the pipeline,” Chuang told journalists on Monday in Juba. “That is why we will all suspect that ruptures will happen from time to time…” he added.
Chuang said more oil spills from poorly maintained facilities, after a pipeline leaked 2,000 barrels of oil in the north of the country into the surrounding land and water since the pipeline burst on Sept. 25.
Activists have long warned of the consequences to residents and the environment from oil spills in the area, where facilities have been battered by war and some lay dormant for years until a peace deal was signed in 2018.
When asked about the spill’s impact on residents, Minister Chuang said the leakage took place in a remote area where there is no human settlement.
The extent of the oil spill is difficult to verify, but the Oil minister mentioned only an area of 400 square metres was impacted, while the local said a river used by residents of three counties has been heavily polluted.
Local population affected?
The area official, who don’t want to be mentioned, saying though the leakage has been stopped, the local population has been seriously affected by the spill, includes drying trees, killing cattle, and poisoning people, and the water is falling into the Nile.
But Minister Chuang said plans are under way to retrieve the leaked oil with powerful vacuums placed on trucks.
“The oil and the water will be sucked by vacuum trucks so that it is retrieved and taken back to the system because when you take water and oil, they can be taken back to the system, and the solid is treated to a level where it is environmentally friendly,” said Chuang/
Chuang said some pipelines in the area have not be in use since late 2013 when fighting broke out in South Sudan, and warned there could be more oil leaks on the horizon.
Chuang said as long as they have started to resume oil in block 1, 2, and 4, since the pipelines are not new, then they should expect the leakage from time to time. What is important is to respond to those leakages from time to time.
Increase oil production
South Sudan is planning to increase oil production by 16,000 barrels per day, to be added to its current production of 178,000 barrels per day, an official announced on Monday.
“We have reached an agreement with Sudan to be able to produce up to 16,000 barrels a day,” Petroleum Minister Awow Daniel Chuang told journalists in the capital Juba, underlining that the country was “moving very fast” to start production in currently unused oilfields.
At its peak, oil production in South Sudan was at 350,000 barrels a day. Since the signing of the peace deal production has gone from 135,000 to 178,000 barrels a day.
Environmental audit planned
Chuang says the ministry plans to contract a foreign company to carry out an environmental audit, adding that the government made some progress in its last negotiations with Sudan, announcing the formation of an environmental audit committee to begin operations next week.
Advocates and legislators representing the oil-producing states had argued that there had been an increase in the number of women who have had stillbirths and deformed children. Other effects that they voiced were skin rashes, eye disease, sudden death and unidentified diseases.
This is mostly caused by dangerous heavy metals used in oil production which leaks into drinking water sources used by people.
Residents living near the oil wells blame the government and the companies for turning a deaf ear to their plight by failing to properly dispose of waste.
The official fears that people living along the River Nile, especially nearby villagers, are drinking contaminated water.
Last week, a child was born with a deformity in Northern Liech State. The child’s photograph was shared widely on social media, which prompted public debate on the effects oil pollution has had on local residents.
Chuang said the child has been taken to Nairobi, Kenya, for further medical examination, adding that the government was busy investigating the effects of oil pollution in the area.
However, concerns have mounted over the health impact of the oil fields to surrounding communities, after decades of companies flouting environmental regulations in the war-torn nation.
A 2014 study by Cordaid reported that: “Oil
production pollutants are suspected by communities to have caused many new
health problems, such as increased infertility in women, a higher number of
miscarriages, and eye and skin problems.”
German NGO Sign of Hope, which has investigated the impact of oil pollution in the country, estimates as many as 600,000 people may be affected.
The oilfields in the war-torn country are being operated by the Greater Pioneer Operating Company or GPOC – is an oil consortium owned by China’s National Petroleum Corporation -an oil and gas company which has shareholders of four namely Malaysians, Chinese, Indians’ ONGC Videsh and Nilepet of South Sudan’s government – rule Nile Petroleum Corporation.
All of these companies have been accused of making profits off the country’s five – year conflict and disregarding best oil production practices.