Barnsley firm uses plant power to clean up African oilfields

20 February 2012

A Barnsley company is using the remarkable power of a humble plant to clean up contaminated water on oilfields in Africa.
Technical consultancy Oceans ESU has engineered systems in Sudan which use reed beds as an environmentally-friendly way to remove chemicals from the oily water left after oil has been extracted from the ground. 
Business support organisation Enterprising Barnsley is helping Oceans ESU as it expands its innovative work into other countries and also in the UK. Profits are expected to increase this financial year by 73 per cent. 
Oceans ESU, based at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre, Wilthorpe, was initially commissioned by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) to carry out work at the Heglig oilfield, close to the border with South Sudan. 
Clean water is being used for irrigation of newly planted forests, with the aim of replacing those damaged in clashes during civil conflict which preceded South Sudan’s independence last year.
The ‘bioremediation’ system, made up of six reed beds, was so successful that a second followed. Six more systems have subsequently been set up at other GNPOC oil fields in the region. The systems cover a total of a thousand hectares of land and are capable of removing all traces of oil from 220,000 tonnes of water every day. The initial development at Heglig is one of the biggest of its kind in the world.
Reeds have extensive roots which provide an ideal habitat for natural soil bacteria which break down a wide range of common chemical pollutants.
Managing director Lucian Gill said: “The scale of what we do and our emphasis on dealing with complex chemicals and reusable applications is unique in the world. 
“We engineer reed beds to get the best possible treatment capability in the smallest area. The reeds regenerate every spring so it’s very low maintenance and, of course, the process doesn’t use any energy and the clean water itself can be reused.”
At the Heglig site, the project has provided a wetland habitat for birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, many of which are under increasing threat from human development.
Over a hundred species of birds have been seen there and four of these are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species, such as the white-headed vulture and black crowned crane.   
“It’s very rewarding to be playing a role in protecting wildlife in Africa when we’re based so far away in Barnsley,” added Lucian. 
Mohamed Musa, section head of environment at GNPOC, said: “The management of the bioremediation systems has continued to produce results which far exceed the environmental standards of both Sudan and worldwide. We feel that the bioremediation is a success of which we are proud, and Oceans has contributed a great deal towards this success.”
Of Oceans ESU’s team of 25 employees, ten work exclusively in Sudan on GNPOC schemes and three other systems for petrol companies. Staff include scientists and civil engineers who develop and monitor the sites.
Oceans ESU is currently designing reed bed systems for two oilfields in Columbia and has put in place a smaller scheme in South Africa which treats run-off from a petrol station.
In the UK, Oceans ESU has been involved with the former ICI chemical plan at Billingham, in the North East, since 1986, a few years after the company was founded by chemist Lucian. A £2.5million reed bed system originally built to dispose of wastewater effluent produced on site is still functioning and is used to clean gulley and sweeper water from local councils. Other UK contracts involve cleaning run-off from landfill and composting sites. 
Additional services carried out by Oceans ESU include other kinds of remediation work on contaminated land plus air and noise monitoring. 
Oceans ESU growth is being boosted by specialist help from business support organisation Enterprising Barnsley - a partnership between Barnsley Development Agency and Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre. 
Business coach Mike Kilroy has used innovative techniques to help the company redefine its identity and develop a marketing strategy.
Robert Large, senior consultant at Oceans ESU, said: “We’re looking at reaching new markets, especially in Eastern Europe, and Mike is helping us to make the most of opportunities that are out there.”  
The Enterprising Barnsley Programme is supported financially by the European Union. Phase two of the project has attracted £2,259,511 investment from the European Regional Development Fund as part of Europe’s support for the region’s economic development through the Yorkshire and Humber ERDF Programme.
Notes to News Editors:
For further details about Oceans ESU, go to, call 01226 785116 or email
For more information about Enterprising Barnsley go to or contact programme manager Martin Beasley on 01226 772648 or at
Media contact for Oceans ESU: Lucian Gill or Robert Large on 01226 785116.
Additional media contacts: Deborah Wain on 07903 466 228 or at or Kate Betts on 01226 766900 or 07792 764891 or at

View current news