FENRAD accosts Shell over Umuorie oil spill

04 May 2012, Sweetcrude, Lagos – FENRAD, an environmental and human rights activist group has taken up issues with Shell, the global oil giant over another oil spill in Umuorie, Abia State, insisting that Shell must make amends

The spill occurred at Usankanya River near Isimiri Flow Station owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, on August 25, 2011.

Usankanya is in Umuorie community, between Ukwa West and Ukwa East Local Government Areas of Abia State. According to residents of the community, the matter was promptly reported to the operating company, SPDC, through phone call on the same day.

Shell, in response to this information, visited the spillage site on September 5, 2011 for inspection of the site and saw a barricade (float tube) lying on the surface of the water, but no further action has been taken till date.

While the problem persisted, residents of the host community cried out to a civil society group known as Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, which also functions as an environmental and human rights activist group, to come to their aid.

FENRAD carried out an inspection visit on the affected site to ascertain the degree of damage done by the spill.

The inspection team, which comprised FENRAD staff and elders of the community, included the following people: Comrade Nnanna Nelson Nwafor, Executive Director, FENRAD; Comrade Henry Okebugwu Nwaigwe, Secretary/Program coordinator; and Comrade Chuka Okoye, Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration (for FENRAD). The community representatives were Chief Samuel Akoma (Palace Secretary), Chief John Nworgu (Community president-general), and Paramount Chief Lazarus Nwarie (Umunkwocha village head).

At the end of the visit, the team came up with the following discovery and reports:
1. A non- stoppage oil spillage flowing on a river from Umuahala axis along SPDC’s right of way. 2. Source of drinking water adversely affected as the spillage has adjourned to seven (7) riverine communities observed to be Umuorie, Umukalu, Umuituru, Orborhia, Umuebulungwu, Obohia and Obunku.
3. Destruction of perennial crops around Usankanya River where the spillage is occurring heavily. The crops include plantain plantation, cassava farms, vegetable garden, orange and banana trees. 4. The fishes in the “fish pond” close to the spillage site are dead as fishermen were seen with their nets lamenting seriously.
5. The environment is filled with odour of crude oil thereby creating serious health hazards.
6. That the cause of the spillage is due to pipe burst because of the pressure. The pipelines were laid in the 1960’s and no step has been taken by SPDC to upgrade them. So, they burst at the slightest pressure.

the statement disclosed that FENRAD wrote a letter to the superintendent of SPDC, urging him to come for a roundtable discussion on the way forward, with regard to the oil spill. The letter dated September 27, 2011, and signed by Comrade Nnanna Nelson Nwafor and Comrade Chuka Okoye, was titled “Re: Urgent Attention To A Prolonged Spillage Site At Umuorie Community And Its Environs” and addressed to The Superintendent, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Port Harcourt District 2, Owaza Flow Station, Eastern Division, Ukwa West Local Government Area, Abia State.

It read in part: “The attention of the above mentioned environmental organization has been drawn by Umuorie Community to a spillage site occurring at Usankanya Rivers near Isimiri Flow Station owned by SPDC Nig. Ltd. During the organization’s interface with Umuorie community representatives, it was gathered that an earlier information regarding the spillage was issued to SPDC through phone calls on August 25, 2011.

A letter was also submitted explaining the details of the effort made by the community. The effort of the community, which has been seen as unsubstantial following your poor response, even though you had visited the site on September 6, 2011 with minor remediation work done by your barricade with float tube, was intensively renewed by the above environmental organization. After our meeting with Umuorie community on September 24 and 26, 2011, a visit of the above organization with four (4) community representatives was carried out on the spillage site.”

FENRAD then went ahead to list their findings on the site and the attendant effects on members of the community. It also issued an ultimatum of 14 days to SPDC for prompt attention.

“It is pertinent to note that your continued delay in cleaning up the spillage site as well as paying compensation to the adjourning third party is spelling environmental danger to the affected areas,” the letter further said. It also indicated the enclosure of video clips, scanned pictures of the spillage site and acknowledgement copy of a reminder letter earlier submitted by Umuorie community to SPDC. Copies of the said letter were also sent to the following people: Honourable Minister, Federal Minister of Environment, Abuja; Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Environment, Umuahia, Abia State; The Chairman, Abia State Oil Producing Development Commission (ASOPADEC), Umuahia, Abia State; The Asset Manager, Land I, East, SPDC Nig. Ltd., Port Harcourt; and The C. R. O. PH2, SPDC, Port-Harcourt. Unfortunately, this also failed to elicit the desired response from the oil giant.

The Executive Director of FENRAD, Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor, said the group has issued out an additional one week ultimatum to Shell, this time around seeking a joint investigation with the operating company and the Federal Government.

“We, together with the host community, are inviting them for a joint investigation visit which will also have government bodies visiting. The aim is to make them know the extent of damage that is being done on the land, and to find solutions to them, with respect to clean up and proper compensation.” As at press time, efforts to get Shell to comment on the matter had not yielded any positive result. Meanwhile, this is just one out of the several other cases lying on the Shell’s table of worries, coming in the heels of the Ogoni oil spillage saga and accusations from certain quarters that Shell is sponsoring militants in the Niger Delta.

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