Sign of Hope responds to WNPOC's reaction

Singen/Germany - Sign of Hope’s chairman, Reimund Reubelt, is welcoming the fact that WNPOC (White Nile Petroleum Operating Company Ltd, Khartoum) is now publicly addressing the issue of contamination of drinking water sources in part of Unity state, southern Sudan:


“We appreciate the fact that WNPOC finally has decided to address the public concerning the contamination of drinking water in its area of operation. After having seen the first analysis of water samples in early 2008 we have repeatedly and continuously addressed WNPOC to come into a dialogue about this issue with no reaction from their side so far. That is why we are welcoming this first reaction from WNPOC. Nevertheless the WNPOC press statement which was circulated on November 25, 2009 still requires a response from our side:


In its statement WNPOC is labelling our findings as ‘baseless and unjustified’, which is not true from our point of view. In order to assess the sources of contamination of the near-surface aquifer and of surface water we have taken more than 50 water samples in the vicinity of the oilfields of Thar Jath and Mala. Those samples were scientifically analysed by an internationally accredited laboratory, based on the WHO drinking water standard. Samples of possible contamination sources also underwent scientific analysis. By drawing the re­sults of the analysis, we were being assisted by Dr. Hella Rüskamp, a Senior German hydro-geologist. In order to assess the potential danger and in order to localize the contamination of drinking water, we have taken many samples at drinking water wells in literally all major human settlements in the region. Moreover we have taken numerous samples at surface water bodies. We did so before and after rainy season in order to examine a possible natural salinity by evaporation.”


Taking that into account Dr. Hella Rüskamp is stating: “There is no significant difference in results of the water samples when we compare the samples taken before and after rainy season. That means there is no reason to believe that the salinity is of geogenic origin. We were able to characterize a natural distribution of minerals which we found at surface water bodies and at non-contaminated drinking water wells in that region. The mineral distribution in naturally occurring waters is dominated by bicarbonate (HCO3), sodium, magne­sium and calcium. The portion of chloride is considerably low in naturally occurring waters.


In contrast to that water, wells that show a high degree of salinity have a completely different mineral distribu­tion. These samples are dominated by sodium-chloride with a low portion of bicarbonate. In the contaminated water wells salts come along with considerable concentrations of heavy metals like lead and chromium.


Samples of produced water flowing off the Central Processing Facility (CPF) and samples of mudpits showed a literally identical mineral distribution as contaminated water wells did. That means that there is clear evi­dence for a direct correlation between disposed waters and the contaminated water of the upper aquifer. The ponds for the produced water nearby the CPF are not sealed with plastic sheets so that a permanent infiltra­tion of salts and other contaminants will diffuse into the water aquifers and the concentration of contaminants will steadily increase there.


Rüskamp is concluding the results: “Drinking water wells that are contaminated with salts are located in areas with unpolluted surface water bodies and with bio-environmentally intact plants. From a hydro-geological and from a geological perspective there is no considerable origin of geogenic salinity in this area.


A major source of contamination are the mud pits at the more than 30 oil-boreholes. In order to keep the salts and the chemicals of the drilling process from seeping into the ground the mud pits should be fully lined with plastic sheets. We have inspected several abandoned oil boreholes. We have seen several abandoned bore­holes where there was obviously no plastic lining at all. We have taken liquid-samples of mud pits of two of those boreholes. The drilling fluids contained extremely high concentrations of salts, pre-dominantly potas­sium chloride (TDS: 47200 mg/l; electrical conductivity: 78800 µS/cm). That means that the drilling fluids in these mud pits have not been removed after cessation of the drilling process as WNPOC was pointing out. The drilling fluids also contained high concentrations of contaminants like boron, lead, barium, strontium, nickel, cadmium, chromium and iron. Heavy metals like chromium and lead could already be found in consid­erable concentrations in contaminated water wells. These heavy metals could not be found in naturally occur­ring waters in that area.


Even after rainy season the water levels in the mud pits have fallen significantly which gives evidence that there is no naturally occurring barrier layer of fine sediments. On the contrary: There is an obvious infiltration of the contaminated drilling liquid into the upper aquifer.”


Klaus Stieglitz, Sign of Hope’s vice-chairman, who led four fact-finding missions to the area, adds:


“WNPOC is claiming that all mud pits are “backfilled and covered”. When I was travelling through that region this month I could spot from the air several abandoned boreholes which were obviously not backfilled and covered. Together with my team I inspected on the ground two of those locations where the drilling liquid re­mained in unfilled mud pits. Those mud pits can be found at N 9°6’44.7’’; E 30°7’19.1’’ and N 8°38’8’’; E 29°58’49.9’’. There is open access to these mud pits which are a danger for human beings and cattle. More­over these mud pits were obviously not lined with plastic sheets.”


Concerning the so called “bio-remediation plant” close to the CPF, Stieglitz says: “When I was visiting the area in April this year I appreciated the construction of this plant as a positive step taken by WNPOC. When I returned this month I had to see that large parts of the plastic sheets were completely torn up and pulled into pieces. This remediation plant will not work without a proper plastic lining.”


Reubelt is concluding Sign of Hope’s position: “We are very willing to enter into a dialogue with WNPOC that aims at ending the contamination of drinking water as this would be of help for the suffering local population.


Besides that, WNPOC’s argumentation could not convince us. After having studied the consortium’s state­ment we still have good reason to believe that the water quality for the local population would be better by far if WNPOC had disposed waste water properly. We are wondering why WNPOC does not spend a single word on the issue of heavy metals in its statement. In naturally occurring waters there are literally no heavy metals. On the other hand we have found considerable concentrations of heavy metals like lead and chromium in the contaminated water wells. These heavy metals can also be found in the drilling liquids of the mud pits. Can there be more obvious evidence? Instead of hiding behind certifications and well-sounding policies WNPOC would have been well-advised to give answers to these questions.


According to our findings both produced water flowing off the CPF in Thar Jath and waters found in drilling pits at oil wells are major sources of contamination. To that end we urge WNPOC to make sure that the newly erected remediation plant will work properly. The torn-in-pieces plastic sheets have to be replaced by an in­tact plastic sheet lining. If this is not the case this remediation plant is not more than window dressing.


Moreover we repeat our previous recommendation directed towards WNPOC to immediately rehabilitate the highly contaminated water in the oil well drilling pits and make sure that neither human beings nor livestock can have access to these waters.


Whereas our organisation has shown concrete and substantiated results of analysis to the public, WNPOC has only produced claims which have not been substantiated so far.

In that context we ask WNPOC to make their environmental impact reports public and include analysis lines that show the chemical composition of produced water before treatment and after treatment in the remedia­tion plant. WNPOC claimed that all mud pits were back filled and covered according to international standards and practices. We must doubt this. That is why we finally ask WNPOC to publish a documentation in which the consortium is describing if and how it has removed drilling fluids from the mud pits and if and in which way these fluid have been disposed. This would be a more constructive approach than superficially refuting our findings. It is not our aim to blame certain companies for their environmental misbehaviour. It is our aim to stop the pollution-input in order to prevent an ecological catastrophe. WNPOC’s ‘zero-pollution-policy’ is a good idea. WNPOC should start to implement it.”