Olabode Akinjide-Oladeji is the CEO/Chief Strategic Officer, OilOff Africa Limited, a technology-based oil clean-up recovery solution company. He speaks with DAPO FALADE, on his company’s willingness to partner with the Federal Government in the quest to implement the UNEP Report on the remediation of the oil-devastated Ogoniland in Rivers State, among other issues.
What is your company about?
OilOff is an oil clean-up and recovery solution company which is here primarily to clean up contaminated soils and contaminated waters, creeks and hydro-carbons. Crude oil spills, today, take a major part of contaminated soils and waters that we have. But our product can be used to clean up hydro-carbons to include crude oil, PMS, AGO.
Primarily, the product that we market is what we called Zafiro Absorbents. They are made from a secret formula which involves the mixture of three different products-OPA liquid, OPA hardener and OPA plus-which are mixed together to make up the absorbents. The difference with our product is that it is an absorbent, not an absorbent. The difference between the absorbent and the absorbent is that the absorbent soaks up the oil through a capillary action into its body. The absorbent works on surfaced area attraction; the oil absorbed is like an electron movement of oil that the absorbent picks up. So the oil stays on the top of the absorbent around it because it is a neutron electron reaction-negative and positive. So it follows around each particle of the product.
Why do you think your company can handle the Ogoni clean-up exercise?
The other part of the technology we are bringing into the country is the equipment and its arrangement to be able to facilitate the working of the clean-up. Technically, what we do for this exercise is to go to field; we condone off the field, break it into segments. For each segment, we physically remove the soil that is there, bring it through our processing lines; take the soil through the processing lines to wash the oil from that soil; return the soil back to the field after we have cleaned the oil from it. This is a thermal absorption process; the oil is removed from that soil and the soil is returned back to the site.
How long can you complete a circle of this whole process?
It is within a day, depending on how deep the contamination is. You have to remember that some soil have oil that has been spilled from 20, 30, 40 years. The contamination in those soils would have caked; it would have gone through different degrees of degradation. To wash those kinds of soil would take longer because we have to pass it through the process like three, four, five times. This is because as it is coming out, we gave to test it to make sure that it is free of the oil contamination.
Given the vastness of the contaminated areas in Ogoniland, how long will this process take?
It now comes down to what we called scheduling of works; it comes down to how many processing lines you want to have at a particular time. That is what will determine the length of time it would take to be able to completely engage in this process. What we are trying to do is that we set up this location in a one-hectare area. When we do this, we can actually go on to clean up of up to 100 hectares because we have break them into different zones. We will take the soil from one particular zone and take it to the process line.
We do not want the distance between the processing zone and the contaminated area to be too long. The trucks that will bring the materials must be able to bring them from a distance not more than one or two-kilometre mark. This is to enable them to go back as quickly as possible to pick up materials and bring them. They dump the materials on the conveyor and the conveyor will move the soil straight to the process.
From each zone like that, we are able to create three, four, five numbers of processing lines as to what we need. This means that within a particular zone, we could, for example, break it into one local government area within each zone, we probably could have three or four of these processing lines that are attacking a particular zone.
The interesting part of the exercise is that because we engage a retinue of trucks and a retinue of equipment, activities of work in the local area is immediately vibrating because where we have 200 trucks that are bringing materials from a particular area, there is a backward need for people that are going to provide food, shelters, diesel, water and a lot of different things. So, the economy of that particular area kicks off, almost immediately.
That is different from the 120 to 150 people that are working within the plants to take care of the process in itself; local indigenes are trained; welders are trained in how to work the equipment; people naturally in the area who have trucks to move material down are able to do that; people that have equipment were able to lease their equipment and the whole environment is engaged. We are able to employ within that particular area like that between 400 and 500 people at a particular point in time. Definitely, over that course of time, we are able to see over 2,000 that are being employed, doing different things.
Of course, at the same time, as we continue with that process, the soils in that whole area are made available immediately the area is finished and is handed over for them to start using it. So, we are saying that within a spate of three months, a particular area is completely completed and is delivered back to the community to work on.
So after the clean-up process, you are sure the people of the affected communities will be able to have back their old life…
Yes and you also have to appreciate that the other thing that happens is that, I am not sure if you have seen the level of degradation that has occurred from contamination, you will see that the soils are cracking. The interesting part of it is that there is a ground water issue; a ground movement of that contamination in the soil that spills over to other areas. Because it spills underground, there is a portion of probably 1.5 metres that seems to be okay that can only take some light vegetations. That is why you see those vegetations there; it is not as if there is no contamination there under. Because this is the main area that is contaminated, there is a distance that it would travel over a course of time. Scientifically, we are able to determine how far down that that contamination will go so that you know how far down the removal and clean-up exercise will be and that is the worst part of the whole exercise.
The UNEP Report recommended the clean-up exercise to be completed within 25 and 30 years, but, using your technology, how long can it take you?
We can flush the place with a good number of equipment and it can be achieved in a much shorter time. I can say 15 years, depending on the deployment. You also have to remember that it is a cost benefit issue. Are we able to pay for it almost immediately? How do we approach the project? Of course, I want to believe that one of the things that the government is going to do is to say, let us give different zone to different persons.
Where do you come in, in the whole process?
Our aim here is to let the Federal Ministry of Environment and all other stakeholders know that, if we are given the opportunity and, using our technology, we can absolutely complete the clean-up exercise within 15 years. What happened is that if we are given the opportunity and we are able to deploy numerous process zones in the whole area, we will be able to achieve this much faster than the norm.
You also have to understand is that we have been on this process for a long time. In 2011, my colleagues brought this project to us. Since then, we have done presentations across board. In 2014, we did a formal presentation to NOSREA and we have been in discussion with the Hydro-carbon Restoration and Pollution Agency. Of course, we have also submitted Expression of Interest to the Ministry of Environment.
Now the issue that I find here is being able to different the shaft from the wheat. I was told that they have gotten over 200 proposals on these different technologies. Now, the gain would really be understanding or identifying which technology gives us a sustainable edge; which one is better for us to engage. So, the issue of competition for this exercise is for us to be able to say which of these technologies gives us the comparative advantage and which one is more sustainable.
And who makes that decision?
Of course, it is the Ministry of Environment and, probably, the presidency. This is because the presidency is deeply involved and so, taking such a decision cannot be left to the ministry alone. Also, such a decision would also depend on how much the presidency and other stakeholders are exposed to all the available technologies and their benefits. I have mentioned to the Minister of Environment that we are amenable to doing a demonstration. I have made the same point to all stakeholders because the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Are you expecting award of contracts for the exercise that would be in line with the due process and also transparent?
Yes. Within reason, the award of contracts would be transparent because, one, you cannot discount the fact this administration is a different regime in terms of the powers-that-be. And being a different regime, we expect, from its body language, that they are coming out to do a project within the parametres of achieving the cleaning up of Ogoniland, based on the UNEP Report. But then, again, you cannot expect that they are going to be giving out this level of project to just anybody they are not sure of.