The rising number of COVID-19 cases among workers at Nigeria’s offshore oilfields and platforms is a growing threat to the country’s oil production, sources within the oil sector said.

However, Nigeria, which failed to curb oil production quota in strict adherence with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreement in an effort to ameliorate the glut in the international market, has now submitted a comprehensive plan on output cuts.

This is coming as the United Kingdom Supreme Court yesterday heard an appeal from Nigerian farmers and fishermen seeking to pursue claims against oil major, Royal Dutch Shell, over spills in the Niger Delta.

S&P Global Platts reported that maintenance at the offshore Bonga oilfield has already been disrupted after the operator, Shell, was forced to evacuate workers due to a pandemic outbreak.

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) confirmed that a growing number of workers were being diagnosed with COVID-19 at offshore and remote oil locations and expressed fears it might disrupt production.

The DPR did not, however, name the fields affected, but blamed the outbreak on personnel not adhering to the rules and guidelines before leaving offshore oil locations.

The DPR, in a statement yesterday, said: “Consequently…no personnel (including government authorities) shall be permitted to embark to offshore/remote locations in the oil and gas industry without being fully subjected to established protocols.

“Furthermore, all operators are to ensure that evidence of compliance with the protocols by personnel travelling to offshore/remote locations is duly documented.”

Offshore production accounts for more than 60 per cent of Nigeria’s 2.10 million-2.20 million b/d crude and condensate output.

Earlier this week, Shell began evacuating workers from the Bonga floating, production, storage and offloading unit after some of them contracted COVID-19, resulting in the maintenance programme being halted.

The 225,000 b/d Bonga Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) has been partially shut since late-May for repairs expected to run until July, according to Shell’s local subsidiary Nigeria Exploration and Production Co.

“The affected workers were suspected to have contracted the disease at the port of Onne en route to the Bonga FPSO vessel. The disease was rampant at the Onne Port,” a source said.

The port of Onne, Rivers State, is the main base from where a large number of supply vessels operate to and from offshore facilities.

The rising cases of COVID-19 in Onne, in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State prompted the the Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, last weekend to impose a total lockdown of the Bonny Local Government Area and Onne community with effect from Sunday.

“Pursuant to the fundamental objective of stopping the spread of coronavirus, we have reviewed the situation in Bonny Island and Onne communities and come to the conclusion that a total lockdown is necessary at this time to shut down the continuing spread of the virus in these communities,” Wike had said in a broadcast.

The 225,000 b/d Bonga field was operating at around 95 per cent of capacity before it was shut down in May, according to S&P Global Platts estimates.

Shell had earlier postponed the routine maintenance at Bonga from March and April due to the pandemic.