Still on the Bonga oil spill

10 December 2014, Lagos – Shell Nigeria Exploration Company must be held accountable for messing up the environment The House of Representatives Committee on Environment recently directed Shell Nigeria Exploration Company (SNEPCO) to pay the sum of $ 3.6 billion, (about N604 billion) following an investigative public hearing into the spill which occurred at the Royal Dutch Shell PLC facility at the Deep Offshore Oil field in Bonga on December 20, 2011.

“Since all efforts by this committee were tactfully rebuffed by SNEPCO, (it) has decided to adopt the damage assessment report submitted by NOSDRA as the lead agency in all oil spill management,” Uche Ekwunife, committee chairman said. The oil spillage has been described by experts as the worst in the last decade and even as at today, the after-effects of the slick from the Bonga field can be felt on the Nigerian shore just as fish, birds and other aquatic animals have been put to risk.

The House reached the decision based on the report of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), which previously recommended a fine of $5 billion. NOSDRA estimated that around 40,000 barrels were spilled when a tanker was loading crude at the offshore platform operated by Shell’s subsidiary SNEPCO. NOSDRA has previously said the spill had hurt locals in the area who rely on fishing for their livelihoods as the slick covered an area of around 950 square km.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s total dependence on SNEPCO and its parent company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, for the clean-up of the Bonga oil spill has exposed the weaknesses of Nigeria’s regulatory agencies – NOSDRA and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), in carrying out their statutory functions. When juxtaposed with a similar massive oil spill near the Gulf of Mexico in the United States of America, one could easily see through the neglect and perhaps naivety on the part of agencies charged with supervising and monitoring the industry. It also tells much about how we as people value lives of our fellow citizens that there has been no serious media focus on the tragedy.

 We must point out here that oil spill is not an uncommon occurrence in deepwater operations nor is it something that always has to do with professional misconduct. But all over the world, incidents like the Bonga spill are taken very seriously by government while the oil company involved in the spillage is usually held accountable and made to take urgent measures to clean up the sites with appropriate compensations paid where necessary. Unfortunately, we have not seen any evidence to suggest that Shell is being held accountable or that the federal government even takes the incident very seriously. The oil spill in the US being referred to incidentally also involved Shell. Everyone could attest to how much effort and resources the company expended in arresting the spread and curtailing the damage to the environment. Hefty compensations were also paid.

There is therefore no reason why the Bonga oil spill should not have attracted the same outrage. Perhaps this may be due to lack of understanding by the people on the level of damage to the ecosystem which the spill would have caused. The public reaction notwithstanding, government has the responsibility to protect the environment and guard against anything that might adversely affect the health and economic activities of the citizens.

This statutory responsibility must not be jettisoned. All the agencies charged with monitoring the activities in the oil sector must live up to expectation in this regard and ensure that the oil spill in Bonga field is cleaned-up as quickly as possible in line with industry standards. Adequate measures must also be taken to prevent more damaging impact on the human and aquatic animals within the coastal area.


– This Day

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