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Shell Nigeria recovers 95% spilled oil? Pardon my skepticism

By RestCo Principal Christopher Ives

Shell Nigeria recovers 95% spilled oil (Aug 20, 2018)

My colleague Darry MacMahon wrote – Pardon my skepticism, but how would they know? I’m making some assumptions here, based on typical oil industry and pipeline operation practice.

If you come up with a ratio number, like 95%, you need two underlying numbers: the amount recovered and the amount actually spilled.

The people doing the clean-up might have a reasonable number on how much they picked up. That number will likely be a little inflated, as they will also likely have picked up some water and small debris as part of the clean-up. Big vacuum units are not good at discriminating between oil and other things in and around the oil. So, the numerator is likely overstated.

However, Shell likely has no accurate way to assess the amount that was actually spilled. Pipeline operators don’t put volume meters at frequent points along the line. In North America, some major pipelines have no metering on volume at all. (They do tend to have pressure meters, though as proven at Kalamazoo, they don’t know how to interpret the information they provide.)

So, is the denominator based on an actual measure – how much oil was actually in the pipe? Or how big the holes were and taking a guess at the flow rates when discovered? (which would lower than the original flow rates at higher pressure) Or just having a look around and saying, oh, looks like about 5% wasn’t picked up? (which would not count any oil which actually soaked into the ground or carried away by rains or rivulets and creeks. In short, for a number of reasons, the numerator is likely to be undercounted.

But 95% sure sounds good in a headline. It’s a number the oil industry has used on multiple occasions before, when it was clearly spurious.

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