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Monday, June 24, 2024

For the umpteenth time, oil spill in Kalaba

Oops, we’ve done it again!

In what appears to have become a norm, barrels of crude oil have found their way beyond the “safe” confines of a pipeline.

A week ago, yet another round of oil spill occurred in Kalaba community in Okordia clan of Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, leading to widespread environmental devastation.

Crude oil reportedly gushed out from six ruptured points on pipelines belonging to the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) in the area.

While one of the spurting points was observed across the Taylor Creek, five ruptured points leaked volumes of oil behind the bushes of Kalaba. Some officials of Agip reportedly visited the impacted site on Saturday, February 16.

Residents of neighbouring communities fear that the spewed crude could spread fast as the heavens open up in the restive region.

It is yet to be ascertained if the six spill points were caused by acts of sabotage or from obsolete pipeline.

Nonetheless, the spill has persisted, with oil flowing into farmlands and water bodies, which are local folks’ means of likelihood. The people are mainly engaged in fishing and farming.

This is the fifth reported case of oil spill within seven years in Kalaba, one of the communities through which Agip pipelines traverse in Okordia clan. Following that of 2006, there was a notable spill in 2009 that lasted about two months, in respect of which Agip reportedly paid compensation to some locals. In 2011, the community experienced over 10 spills on both sides of the Taylor Creek. In June 2012, there were fresh oil spills along the pipelines that lasted several days.

Curiously, some previous oil spill sites are deemed not to have been cleaned up till today. For instance, residents allege that those of 2006 and 2011 are still pending.

According to them, Agip officials often deny responsibility if they do not have a copy of the Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) report that documents the cause of a spill.

“That is why we always ensure that we get copies of such reports. Sometimes, even when armed with the JIV report signed by Agip, the company denies. An example is one of the spills in 2009,” discloses a resident.

He laments that the oil giant has not impacted the community in any positive way, apart from the negative impacts of oil spills and related oil exploitation conflicts in the area.

His words: “You can never see any project executed by Agip in this Kalaba community. Not even a single scholarship for our children. This is the simple truth and it is very bitter too. I want to appeal to Agip to amend the way it relates with communities, especially in terms of response to oil spills and community relations.”

Observers believe that the firm’s nonchalant attitude may not be unconnected with the somewhat paltry penalty in place for oil spillers.

A call by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) for Agip to pay the sum of N1 million as fine over its (Agip’s) alleged failure to immediately contain, recover and clean up an oil spill at its OB/OB Gas plant in Obrikom, Omoku, Rivers State, drew the ire of Senator Bukola Saraki, who claimed that the fine imposed was not deterrent enough for such offence that has the potential to cause degradation of the environment and inflict long lasting damage to the health of the people living in the community.

The proliferation of laws against oil spillage notwithstanding, the country still lacks a clear-cut law and policy that would checkmate oil companies from abusing the ecosystem. It does not have serious laws meting out punishment to offenders when it has to do with oil pollution especially in the Niger Delta.

Saraki, the Senate Committee Chairman on Environment and Ecology, has since taken up a campaign to tinker with the NOSDRA Act to ensure that oil spillers are severely punished to serve as a deterrent.

Meanwhile, the series of spills in Kalaba is severely impacting the community’s environment and should be urgently addressed. A source said that the impact on trees, shrubs and other plants around the spill sites is grave as they display wilting leaves and varying stages of death.

“Even the birds on tree tops are not spared as the escaping crude oil in gaseous form comes with a characteristic sound and rises far above the trees and spreads all around the environment, presenting a kind of misty scenario that impedes visibility. This may cause forced migration of birds or death of young ones and abandonment of eggs in nests. And, for sure, all living creatures will avoid that environment due to the sound and toxicity of the crude oil. The ecosystem has suffered much assault from the crude oil escaping from Agip’s pipeline.”

Agip needs to urgently mobilise to site and stop all the spill points and follow up with clean-ups. Pending spill sites should likewise be attended to.

The oil firm should effectively monitor its facilities, including the pipelines in Kalaba, to forestall situations where spill incidents continue for days or weeks and months.

While NOSDRA should ensure that Agip cleans up before the heavy rains sets in, the impacted environment should be re-mediated and compensation paid without delay where necessary.

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