An oil spill near the coast of Nigeria is likely to be the worst there in a decade, the government official said today, as slicks from the Royal Dutch Shell spill approached the southern shoreline.
The slick from Shell's Bonga field has affected 115 miles of ocean near Nigeria's coast, said Peter Idabor, who leads the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.
He said officials expect the slick to reach beaches within hours, affecting birds, fish and other wildlife in the area.
Shell, the major oil producer in Nigeria, said the spill probably happened as workers tried to offload oil onto a waiting tanker. The company published photographs of the spill, showing a telltale rainbow sheen in the ocean, but said it believes that about 50% of the leaked oil has already evaporated.
The source of the leak has been plugged and experts from Britain were coming to help with the cleanup, Idabor said.
Shell estimates the Bonga spill was less than 40,000 barrels, or 1.68 million gallons.
That is about the same amount of oil spilled offshore in 1998 at a Mobil field. The 1998 spill saw oil slicks extended for more than 100 miles to Lagos, the country's commercial capital.
Nigerian authorities hope to use oil booms and chemicals to disperse or collect the spilled oil.
Shell said its Nigerian subsidiary had already sent ships out to the slick to use dispersant on the oil sheen.