CONCERNS have been raised that the oil and gas exploration rig in Port of Ngqura could be leaking oil into the bay. Both the Norwegian company that owns the ultra-deepwater drilling rig and the harbour authorities have rejected as unfounded the concerns raised by environmental group Ocean Messengers.
But Ocean Messengers head said yesterday the organisation’s concerns, sparked by an aerial photograph taken by Ocean Messengers' founder Schimpf on Friday and revealing what appears to be a brown plume extending out from one side of the rig, need to be urgently probed.
“My concern is that it is oil and, if it is, especially with the prevailing westerly winds at present, it could spread out the port into the waters around St Croix and Brenton islands, where a lot of our penguins are," he said.
The communications’ manager for Odfjell Drilling, the company that owns the rig said yesterday it had not been responsible for any pollution at Ngqura.
Communicating via e-mail and telephone from Odfjell’s office in Bergen in Norway, spokesman Sunniva Seteras said, “there have been no spills whatsoever to sea from our rig.”
Pressed further on the matter, she said the Stavanger is especially designed for environmentally sensitive areas.
“The utmost focus has been put on zero-discharge, low emissions and electrical solutions to reduce on-board oil volumes and associated pollution risks
“Separate drain systems are installed for the machinery area, drilling area and all outside clean deck areas. No drain water is discharged without passing a cleaning system which ensures acceptable oil content.”
Important installations that contribute to the “green rig” rating for the Stavanger include an enclosed derrick which prevents sludge spilling into the sea and all drain lines routed to a central cleaning unit, she said.
“Even the rainwater that falls on the rig is purified and not allowed to simply run off in case of any toxins it might collect on board.”
Besides these on-board anti-pollution security measures, when stationary, the rig also deploys a boom on the water and “a crew of men at the yard site who will react immediately”, she said.
The Stavanger focuses on exploration and drilling and does not harvest or carry oil herself. She is self-propelled, not towed, and has docked at Ngqura after voyaging down from waters off East Africa, where she completed a successful job exploring for gas off Tanzania.
The rig arrived at the beginning of the month and will be staying “a couple of weeks”. She is just a year old, so there is nothing wrong with her, she stressed. She is being cleaned inside “but the water from this cleaning is filled in tankers and transported to authorized deposit stations.”
The main reason for her checking into Ngqura is to allow for modification work to prepare her for her up-coming work off Angola, under lease from BP, Seteras said.
“One of the things being done is upgrading of the rigs’ IT systems, and changing out some equipment on board.”
When Ngqura was being built there were also concerns raised about the introduction of invasive foreign organisms in the ballast water of in-coming vessels and the damage this could do to the sensitive marine ecosystem in he east of the bay.
Asked about this, Seteras said the Stavanger’s ballast water is being transported off the rig and then taken away by tanker trucks to safe land sites. The ballast water in the Deepsea Stavanger has moreover already been analysed in South African labs and there are no micro-organisms in it, she said.
Transnet National Ports’ Authority (TNPA) said operations at Ngqura are monitored constantly to ensure compliance with environmental requirements and “we never had any spillage related to the rig to date.”
TNPA spokesman Elias Motsoahole said Odjfell Drilling had conducted an environmental risk assessment and had developed a comprehensive environmental management plan as part of its application to dock at Ngqura.
“The plan was scrutinised and accepted by TNPA. (It) includes the assessment of risk to introduce alien invasive marine organisms.”