Thursday, January 12, 2012

The oil spills no one is talking about

Nigeria has been occupied and attention is focused on #occupyNigeria and the removal of fuel subsidy. There is another issue we should be talking about but we are not.
On the 20th and 24th of December, oil spills occurred in Shell’s Bonga oil field located in Odioama Community, Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and Nembe Creek trunkline in Bayelsa. Press reports state that about 40,000 barrels of oil was spilled in Bonga and that this is the worst spill in Nigeria’s history since 1998. The amount of oil spilled in Nembe Creek is yet to be determined

Considering that oil spills  and environmental degradation were causes of the Niger-Delta agitation, It is surprising that oil spills like these still occur and are treated with levity by responsible agencies and the government.

According to Shell, The Nembe spill was a result of oil theft while the Bonga spill was caused by a leak in one of the export lines during a tanker loading operation.

These spills show that:
  1.  Nigeria’s supervising and regulatory agencies (NOSDRA, NIMASA, Ministry of Environment) lack the capacity and ability to regulate and monitor oil companies. These agencies are unable to carry out their stated mandates as regulatory agencies.  Available reports on these spills are from Shell. How are Shell’s reports verified and validated? Considering Nigeria’s past experiences with oil companies and their attitudes to clean up and taking ownership of their failures, it is unfortunate that we are yet to develop the capacity to effectively regulate and monitor the oil companies.  For instance, there are no investigations on the causes of the spills,  the consequences and impacts of the spills. Shell claims that the spills have been cleaned up but how the clean-up was conducted and the substances used in the clean-up are not stated. A reuters report  and reports by environmental advocates state that the Bonga oil spill has not been properly cleaned up. The director of NIMASA has also come out to state that Shell has not properly cleaned up the area.
  2. Nigeria has no supervisory power over oil companies: Shell resumed operations in Bonga on the 1st of January. The directive to resume operations was not given by NOSDRA (National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency) or NIMASA (Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) or the Senate committee on the Environment. This decision was taken by Shell. This abandonment of responsibilities on the part of government and regulatory agencies is startling. It took BP over a year to resume drilling after the Gulf of Mexico Spill in 2010.
  3. The Nembe oil spill has been underreported.
Related to these technical and political weakness, there are no discussions on appropriate compensation for affected people or penalties for Shell. Using the Gulf of Mexico incident as an example, BP was fined $20 billion as compensation for those affected by the oil spill- $5 billion of this has been paid.  

The government’s failure to ensure the security and welfare of her citizens is seen in this case. A situation where the government relies on oil companies for information on their activities and violations is unacceptable. Until the government rises up to it responsibilities and develops technical capacity and enforces environmental laws in Nigeria, the Niger- Delta area would continue to be exploited by oil companies.
A quick research shows that there are no enabling laws that outline the penalties for environmental violations especially oil spills in Nigeria.  As the saying goes where there is no law, there is no crime. The National Assembly has the responsibility to pass laws that would protect our environment.
NOSDRA and NIMASA have to be empowered to carry out their statutory functions. There should be investments in technological tools such as GIS (geographic information systems) mapping and tracking tools to enable these agencies carry out independent evaluation when incidences like this occur.
NOSDRA and the Senate committees on environment and petroleum should also have oversight functions over the oil companies. For instance, how does Nigeria verify that international best practices are followed during drilling operations by oil companies?
My two cents is that until the Nigerian government develops the capacity to monitor oil companies and holds oil companies accountable, the Niger-Delta area would continue to be exploited and the quality of life in that area would not improve.

Please feel free to add comments on how to ensure that NOSDRA is up and running.


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