Bonga spill never spread to communities – Tony Attah

20 July 2012, Sweetcrude, LAGOS – MR Tony Attah, Vice president, HSE and Corporate Affairs, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, in this interview, denies claims by Niger Delta communities on the Bonga oil spill, saying the spill never spread to the shoreline and that there is no evidence supporting claims by the communities that crude oil from Bonga polluted their waters.
He also says the company is awaiting the conclusion of the analysis from the regulatory agencies. Excerpts:

There was no spill from any other oil company and no known third party spill between December 20 and December 24, in the Niger-Delta. It was the spill from Bonga that affected Azamabiri, Ogbeintu, Orobiri, Aghoro I , Ogheye, Ogulagha, Oporoza and other communities in the Niger-Delta.

As we have said publicly before, a body of oil, apparently spilled from a yet unknown source which (from the location, consistency and colour) could not have been Bonga oil, was reported on December 24. SNEPCo (Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company) had almost finished dispersing the actual Bonga spill before sighting this third party oil over 100km away from Bonga and in an area SNEPCo had over flown several times during the previous days, without any oil in sight. Like any responsible operator would do, SNEPCo tried to clean up this third party spill, pending the outcome of the investigation to determine the source of the oil.

Azamabiri, Ogbeintu, Orobiri, etc are less than or about 100 nautical miles from Bonga, on what grounds is the company claiming that the crude oil spill did not get to the communities because our findings indicate that the spill , indeed, got there?

The company made every effort to prevent the Bonga crude from hitting the shoreline. The trajectory of the Bonga spill was continuously monitored and as at the date the third party spill was noticed, the Bonga spill had almost dispersed. The location, consistency and colour of the third party spill suggest strongly that it could not therefore have been part of the Bonga spill.

Why is it that contrary to the assurance given to the communities by SPDC, the fingerprinting results did not come out two weeks after, and this is the sixth month of the spill?
Samples were taken by the regulatory authorities for analysis and we defer to the outcome of their analysis.

When is the result of the fingerprinting going to be ready, what is delaying it?
We await the outcome of the analysis undertaken by the relevant regulatory authority.

Our investigations showed that the spill got to the shorelines of many Niger Delta communities and chemicals were used to disperse them contrary to your claim that it did not get to the communities?
We are unaware of the details of those ‘investigations’ and therefore cannot comment on them or their alleged outcomes. However, it is our view that it is the yet unidentified third party oil that hit the shoreline of certain communities and dispersants were used only as sanctioned by the regulators on the original Bonga spill when it was many kilometres offshore.

Is Shell aware that many of these communities are no longer carrying out fishing business or that fishing occupation is virtually crippled as a result of the spill and dispersants that were used?
We are not aware and the evidence so far available to us does not support such claims.

Are you also aware that the crude oil spill not only killed their fishes and polluted their water, but also affected their ecology?
We are not aware and the evidence so far available to us does not support such claims.

Name the chemicals that were used because the people are complaining of cholera, vomiting, bronchitis, strange cough and other sicknesses since the dispersants were used?
We used Corexit 9500 and 9527 and SlickgoneNS, all duly approved for use by DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources). Dispersants were specifically formulated for use in marine environments, and were only applied as stipulated by the regulators many tens of kilometres out to sea. We have no basis to confirm or validate the health effects being claimed.

The complaint is that the chemicals used further pushed the crude down the river, but now, when they go fishing, their fishing nets are soaked with crude?
The crude from Bonga was never in the river, but many kilometers out at sea. We are not aware of any evidence, scientific or otherwise to support this assertion.

After dispersing the spill, is the company not considering relief materials and compensation for the havoc done to the people and their means of livelihood?
We are not aware of any ‘havoc’ done to people and livelihoods as a result of the Bonga Spill.

Are you aware that oil exploration and exploitation by your company is encroaching on most of the communities, like Agge, Azamabiri, Ogbeintu, etc?
No, we are not aware.

A woman leader, Mrs. Sarah Gbago from Azamabiri told us how she reported the spill that was observed in her community to an SPDC official in Warri, Mr. Donald Ovberedjo on December 24, four days after the Bonga spill, how the company flew them to Forcados, instead of the affected area, and kept playing on their intelligence till December 27 after dispersants had been used. Is this not deceitful on the part of SPDC?
SPDC has continued to operate its business based on the principles of full disclosure and collaboration with all stakeholders.
By December 27, the cleanup of the Bonga spill had been completed. There were, however, claims by members of some coastal communities that their communities had been affected. There was an overfly of the coastline undertaken on December 27 which confirmed that such claims were not borne out by evidence as there was no evidence of impact on the shore line.

Community leaders from Ogulagha, Aghoro, Azamabiri said SPDC officials in meetings held with them acknowledged that the company had a spill and appealed that they should bear with them in case the spill flow to their areas and that relief materials would be given to them. Why is the company totally denying responsibility later and calling it mystery spill?
Any such meeting would be a proactive engagement in anticipation of a worst case scenario which did not materialise as the Bonga spill was effectively contained by the concerted efforts of the spill response team in collaboration with the relevant government agencies.

On December 20 when the Bonga spill occurred, was there a formal report made by SPDC to NOSDRA, in Warri or Lagos?
Both the DPR and NOSDRA were formally notified of the incident on December 21.

What was the response of NOSDRA as an agency in-charge of such matters?
Kindly, contact NOSDRA for response.

There is this contention that SPDC hijacked the duty of NOSDRA by doing the clean-up on its own in some places. What is your reaction?
SNEPCo complied with oil spill response procedure and standards for operators in the industry. The clean up was with the express support of the regulators.

Finally, from latest findings, it cannot be true that the spill from Bonga did not get to the shoreline of the aggrieved communities in the Niger Delta. Our investigations did not show that there a was spill from any other company or source at that time, a spill or spills from bunkering activities could not have been large enough for such a massive spread. What is the company’s next step to douse the anger of the people?
We are unaware of the details of those ‘findings’ and, therefore, cannot comment on them or their alleged outcomes.

About the Author

  • Events have overtaken the claims and counter claims between Shell and the communities. the government agency charged with the responsibility of superintending the environment have found Shell liable for the spill which it says impacted the communities and have imposed a fine. This is the way modern societies function. Would Mobil have said it wasn’t responsible for the Valdez spill or BP claim it should not be fined for the spill in the gulf of Mexico? Why is Shell reducing this to a ridiculous ding dong affair? This is certainly not the way to go.

  • Give the Niger Delta people job in the Oil and Gas industry and the issues of clain will be over. All they need is employment in the industry.