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Funiwa offshore spill: Environmentalist seeks stringent regulation for operators

An environmental rights activist, Mr Alagoa Morris, on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 called for stringent regulation of activities of oil firms operating offshore in the nation’s territorial waters.

Alagoa Morris
Alagoa Morris

In an interview in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Morris noted that recent incidents had shown that oil and gas exploration at offshore fields comes with greater risks to the maritime environment.

Reacting to leaks from Funiwa oilfield operated by Chevron Nigeria Ltd (CNL) off the Atlantic coastline of Bayelsa, the environmentalist decried the poor response of oil firms operating in the area.

He said that the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) should be adequately funded and equipped to have unfettered access to offshore fields rather than relying on operators.

Fishermen around the Atlantic Ocean coastline had on Sunday reported an oil leak suspected to be from the Funiwa fields.

However, the operator of the field, Chevron, denied responsibility for the leakage.

Mr Esimaje Brikinn, Chevron’s General-Manager, Policy, Government and Public Affairs, said that there was no leakage from its operations in Bayelsa.

“CNL, operator of the joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the NNPC/CNL JV, is aware of media reports suggesting an oil leakage from Funiwa field in Bayelsa.

“We wish to state that contrary to these reports, there has been no such oil leakage or spill incident at any of our facilities in Bayelsa State,’’ he said.

Morris said that if the oil firms operate in an environmentally sustainable manner as they claim, their priority would be to activate oil spill response mechanism rather than denying it.

The environmentalist recalled that there was an explosion at the same field on Jan. 16, 2012.

“Interestingly, this is happening on the same date, 16th January, nine years after the Chevron North Apoi explosion within the same environment.

“The offshore environment is more prone to environmental pollution because the water current spreads whatever is discharged wider and faster, and before you know it the leaked crude is washed away.

“When the regulators visit to take samples after the usual delays, the results will exonerate the operator that is why the companies delay because they know that the only access to the area is by aircraft or vessels.

“I think these oil companies are trying to further deny victims of their activities by taking undue advantage of offshore operations.

“This is one reason offshore operations should be seen as a great threat to fishermen in terms of livelihood and public health.’’

Morris, who is of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), also recalled that in 2017, some environmentalists suggested states in the Niger Delta region, especially Bayelsa, to establish a “standard science laboratory to assist communities and individuals test materials from oil industry induced pollution’’.

He noted that adequate commitment had not been shown towards the safety of the environment in the country.

“Talks about the environment have been more of rhetoric and nothing more.

“The oil industry operators have known that regulators are incapacitated by funding and equipment, so they are not bothered.

“The day the regulators would take their rightful place, the oil companies would have no options than do the right things or get penalised,” Morris said.

The environmentalist wondered why NOSDRA could not apply appropriate technology like satellite imagery, drones to monitor discharge of crude oil at oilfields and bring culprit to book.

By Nathan Nwakamma

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