Hot air in Nigeria over Bonga oil spill

Bonga-oil-spill28 July 2013, Port Harcourt – PROCEEDINGS at an environmental training workshop and capacity building for civil society groups on offshore oil exploration and exploitation in Nigeria and , Its Impact on lives and livelihoods, was characterized with some hot exchanges between pro and anti-establishment groups in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital in Southern Nigeria, on Thursday.

Leading the controversial debate on Growing Offshore Oil Exploration and Production, Livelihoods, Environment and Civil Society in Nigeria, Dr. Fidelis Allen of Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) at the event that was organized by Environmental Rights Action (ERA) said offshore oil exploration was not attractive in Nigeria before 1999 but has been growing after that time.

According to him, ”now, 40 per cent of overall production comes from offshore. Investment is already $48 billion and will soon reach $66 billion. International Oil Companies will invest $165 billion in the next five years”, pointing out that Nigeria has five major deepwater oil fields in the areas of Bonga (SNEPCO), Erha (Exxon-Mobil), Akpo and Usan (Total), and Agbami (Chevron)

All these, he went on, are Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading vessels (FPSO) which are all in the volatile Niger Delta. ”Their sudden interest is to kill fish, cause marine life to avoid offshore fields, destroy means of livelihoods, public health risks, climate change – internationalise environmental problems eg gas flaring which is prevalent at offshore locations. Bonga for instance is 120 kilometers from the shore so the eyes cannot see whats happening there, and frustrate democratic control of oil and the environment (corrupt democracy).

“It must be noted that in the Bonga incident of December 2011 the spill was during loading and transport of crude oil on ocean-going vessels. Certain species of aquatic creature run away from areas where these activities occur. Shell subsidiary SNEPCO was responsible and also denied that communities were involved. But if the communities are not visited or the shores not visited, the fish farmers noticed that there were dead fish and their catch was dwindling. In this particular incident about 40,000 barrels were spilled into the ocean and about 64 communities across states affected. About 923 square kilometers in all. SNEPCO apologized but refuted complaints about impacts and also failed to pay a $5 million fine

The varsity don said offshore oil exploration will internationalise environmental-related problems. It will destroy means of livelihoods and kill fish. The public health risk stems from eating fish contaminated by oil pollution, insisting that offshore exploitation will frustrate democratic control because communities will not be able to reach the companies or participate in discussing the issues with conviction because the facilities are nautical distances away from them.

On the lessons learnt, he said response by the oil companies and government has remained basically weak and shallow, likelihood of runaway marine pollution, livelihoods concerns have remained basically undermined, and wider social costs of investments in the sector eg the environment, livelihoods. As against the stories peddled by investors on job opportunities, development etc, are Nigerians getting jobs?

Allen said he wants civil society organisations to deepen interests in offshore livelihoods and environmental issues, campaign against increased deepwater blocks, gas flaring and oil spills in offshore oil fields, ask Foreign Oil Companies (FOCs) and Local Oil Companies (LOCs) to join OPOL-1974-Offshore Pollution Liability Association, campaign for implementation of UN business and human rights principles, and increase mobilization, awareness creation and work with community-based groups eg fishermen and farmers

“Civil society organisations should get interested in climate change issues and utilize international conventions and voluntary agreements to demand environmental accountability and protection of marine life, improve their oversight monitoring and analysis capacity, mobilization of local communities, and increased advocacy for alternative energy,” he said.

Participants at the event however, told AkanimoReports that the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, may have denied impact of Bonga spill on communities but wind and even sunshine help disperse the spill far to communities. The impact on fish that Nigerians eat was not documented. So how will Shell say the fisherfolks who could not make catch were not impacted? There is also the impact on the mangroves etc that they refused to acknowledge. Do we have adequate remediation measures?

For Bello Augustine, an official of NOSDRA, an environmental regulatory agency, ”there is no comprehensive report on Bonga oil spill to blame NOSDRA for not carrying out any activitity or monitoring when the incident occurred in 2011. If there is an oil spill if there is any action to contain it, it is okay with us. Shell brought in a chemical unused in Nigeria before now to contain the spill. NOSDRA research shows the chemical has no negative impact on the environment. It was NOSDRA that fined Shell. To the best of NOSDRA knowledge, Shell managed the spill well.

“The administrative fine on Shell is a court matter but we believe they will pay. ERA should be involved in facilities’ inspection and their members should visit the offshore facilities quarterly. May of the oil companies do not have spill containment officers in offshore facilities inspection. There is need for ERA to raise a team to investigate the Bonga issue”.

Barbs Pawuru, chair of the Host Communities Network, said drilling is a small aspect which should be replaced with the word exploration. “Production” should also be removed and replaced with the word “exploitation”.

“The impacts of pollution onshore is same as that of offshore except that one, you see, the other you hardly do. For instance, in onshore drilling mud is dumped in a drill mud pit where you can see but nobody is asking where the drill mud of the offshore is dumped. The truth is that they dump it in the sea and pollute the oceans. All these affect the marine ecosystem. Dynamites are used onshore. What of the ones used offshore? For the NOSDRA officials who did the tests for Bonga that claimed Shell did cleanup. No chemical eats frozen fuel. It is a lie,” he said.
*Akanimo Sampson

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