Shell Oil Spill Affecting 115 Miles of Ocean Near Nigeria’s Coast

An oil spill off the coast of Nigeria is likely the worst to hit those waters in a decade, the slick from the Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) spill affecting 115 miles of ocean and expected to reach beaches by Thursday afternoon.

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Shell said Wednesday the spill at its Bonga field likely occurred as workers tried to offload oil into a waiting tanker. The company has already published photographs of the spill, showing

The slick from Shell’s Bonga field has affected 115 miles (185 kilometers) of ocean near Nigeria’s coast, Peter Idabor, who leads the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, told The Associated Press. Idabor said officials expect the slick to reach beaches by Thursday afternoon.

Shell, the major oil producer in Nigeria, said Wednesday the spill likely occurred as workers tried to offload oil onto a waiting tanker. The company published photographs of the spill, the quintessential rainbow sheen on the ocean’s surface, but said it believes that about 50 percent of the leaked oil has already evaporated.

The source of the leak has been plugged, but the spill still threatens the shoreline and wildlife, said Peter Idabor, who leads the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. Experts from Britain will go help with the cleanup.

On Wednesday, Shell said the Bonga spill was likely less than 40,000 barrels, or 1.68 million gallons — about the same amount of oil spilled offshore in 1998 at an Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) field that saw oil slicks extended for more than 100 miles to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. “Since the Mobil spill, this is just about the most major one,” Idabor said.

Nigerian authorities hope to use oil booms and chemicals to disperse or collect the spilled oil, while Shell said its Nigerian subsidiary had already sent ships out to the slick to use dispersant on the oil sheen. The company also said it would use infrared equipment to determine where the sheen is thickest.

The Bonga oil field sits about 75 miles off Nigeria’s coast, and can produce about 200,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet of gas a day, though production has been halted since the discovery of the spill. Shell operates the field in partnership with state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

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