Houston Oil Experts Not Held Hostage in Nigeria

HOUSTON, Texas, May 8, 2001 (ENS) - Three Texas oil control specialists have arrived safely back in the United States after they capped a huge, potentially explosive oil spill in southeast Nigeria.

Contrary to media reports, the company for which they work says the three men were not held hostage by Nigerians upset over the spill at an abandoned Royal Dutch/Shell well in the Niger Delta.

Jerry Winchester, president and CEO of Boots & Coots International Well Control, Inc. told ENS, "No one was harmed. When the Ogoni tribe showed up at the location and blocked the entrance to the facility, they ultimately just left. The men were never held. They just faced a protest."


Richard Hatteberg, senior vice president and senior blowout specialist, Boots & Coots (Photo courtesy Boots & Coots)
Richard Hatteberg, Boots & Coots team leader, with Roy Hefley, and Asgar Hansen, all from Houston, were rushed to the spill in Ogoniland on Friday.

The well at Shell's Yorla oil field was breached on April 29, and black oil and gas poured forth over nearby homes and waterways. The site of the wellhead was covered in a white fog of escaping gas and the hiss of rushing gas could be heard over a mile away. A single spark could have caused an enormous explosion and fire affecting more than 100,000 local residents.

That explosion never came, and the well was safely capped.

The oil was actually spewing out the well head, said Winchester. The Houston experts deal with source control first, spill control second, and the protesters did prevent them from cleaning up the spill.


Aerial view of a Shell Nigeria operational area in the Niger Delta showing a flow station and flare. (Photo courtesy Shell Nigeria)
"We do both," said Winchester, "but in this particular case, staying around there to clean it up and let those people get mad at you doesn't seem like a good thing. We were trying to keep the thing from catching on fire, which we did do," Winchester said.

The spill has rekindled the simmering anger between Shell and the Ogoni people, whose campaign against the Anglo-Dutch company was picked up internationally in 1995 when their leader, the writer Ken Saro Wiwa, was hanged with eight activists by Nigeria's then ruling military government.

Shell accuses the local communities of causing the spill by sabotaging the wellhead. The Ogoni community leaders say no one sabotaged the facility, and the spill was caused by Shell's neglect of the equipment.

Now the question is who will clean up the massive amount of oil that escaped. Shell says it abandoned the well in 1993 due to local opposition and pays the government of Nigeria royalties to improve the welfare of the people.

The cleanup will depend on the readiness of the affected communities to allow our men to work," a Shell spokesman said.


Shell Nigeria workers explore for oil in the Niger Delta (Photo courtesy Shell Nigeria)
Shell warns that the spill at the Yorla field is evidence that the 14 unsecured wells in the area it abandoned precipitously because of Ogoni hostility could blow out at any time. The company was able to properly secure only two wells, a spokesman said.

Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer, yielding two billion barrels per day. The Ogonis make up 500,000 of the 6,000,000 people of the Delta region where 90 percent of the oil is produced.

For a history of Shell operations in Nigeria from the company point of view, visit: http://www.shellnigeria.com

A brief history from the Ogoni point of view is online at: http://www.unpo.org/member/ogoni/ogoni.html

Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP):