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Monday, May 20, 2024

Oil spill: Nigeria at threshold of new era

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) was established by Act No. 15 of 2006 as a deliberate and articulate response by the Federal Government to the persistent environmental degradation and devastation of the coastal ecosystem especially, in the oil-producing areas of the Niger-Delta region.

Effect of oil spill on a supposed water body

NOSDRA is statutorily empowered to co-ordinate oil spill management and ensure the implementation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) for Nigeria in accordance with the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC) 1990, which Nigeria has ratified. The NOSCP is a blueprint for checking oil spill through containment, recovery and remediation/restoration. It was drafted in 1981 and first reviewed in 1997, and further reviewed in 2000 and 2006.

NOSDRA is essentially mandated to play the lead role in ensuring timely, effective and appropriate response to all oil spills, as well as protect threatened environment and ensure clean up of all impacted sites to the best practical extent.

But the agency has been found wanting in effectively achieving stated objectives, no thanks to seeming limitations of its operation, ostensibly due to the lack of an enabling law that would empower it to prosecute oil companies against spillage and other environmental pollution in the country.

A NOSDRA official said recently: “The current situation of oil spillage and pollution cannot be properly put under control, because we are still waiting for the National Assembly to approve the amendment we requested, which will enable us punish oil companies engaging in oil spillage.”

According to him, 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.

“As it is now, we don’t have serious laws meting out punishment to offenders when it has to do with oil pollution especially in the Niger Delta,” said the NOSDRA official, who was referring to the ongoing review of the NOSDRA Enabling Act (2006). A bill to that effect was sponsored by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central), the Senate Committee Chairman on Environment and Ecology, who has underlined the need to tinker with the Act to conform to international standards.

He had frowned at NOSDRA’s call to Nigeria Agip Company Limited to pay the sum of N1 million as fine over Agip’s alleged failure to immediately contain, recover and clean up oil spill at its OB/OB Gas plant in Obrikom, Omoku, Rivers State. The Senator lamented 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.

He vowed that his committee in the Senate would review the enabling act establishing the agency to conform and strengthen its ability to deter bad behaviours and protect the environment while living up to world best practises on prevention of oil spillage in the country.

Amid claims by oil firms that over 70 percent of the spillage is caused by indigenes through sabotage, Saraki, however maintains that 50 percent of oil spills in Nigeria are due to corrosion of oil infrastructure including pipelines that are over 40-50 years old and therefore above integrity value, 28 percent of the spills are determined to be as a result of sabotage, while 21 percent result from production operations. According to him, negligence plays a major role in oil spills in Nigeria.

The bill on the subject has already undergone the First and Second Readings in the Senate. A Public Hearing on the bill held last November. The Leadership for Environment and Development – Anglophone West Africa (LEAD-AWA) played an active role during this session in Abuja by lending its voice to the debate.

An international non-profit organisation, LEAD operates a fellowship programme that gives emerging leaders the skills, knowledge and network of contacts to bring about transformational change for a sustainable future. Its Anglophone West Africa (AWA) programme is based in Lagos.

Two LEAD Fellows – Adeolu Odusote (an engineer based in Abuja) and Dr. Olawale Ajai (a lawyer and LBS Faculty) – represented LEAD-AWA at the daylong proceedings.

Indeed, according to LEAD-AWA Programme Director, Maureen Akintayo, the organisation’s intervention and concern was informed by “the role FEDEN/LEAD-AWA has played since 1992 in the enactment of similar policies and its furtherance of our sustainable development agenda.”

If the bill is eventually passed into law, NOSDRA will be re-designated as “National Oil Pollution Management Agency”, which is charged “with the responsibility to prevent, detect, minimise and respond to all spillages and pollution as well as gas flaring and leakages and other hazardous and obnoxious substances in the petroleum sector, coordinate private sector participation in oil pollution management, have access to the ‘Oil Spillage Liability Trust Fund’ as set up by law.”

According to the new provisions, the total of the liability of an oil spiller excluding removal costs incurred by him or on his behalf with respect to each incident shall not exceed N50,000 per barrel (for a tank vessel), N100,000 per barrel (a vessel of less than 3,000 gross tons), N150,000 (vessel of 3,000 gross tons), N250,000 (any other vessel), total of all removal costs plus N5 billion (offshore facility except a deep-water port), and N15 billion (onshore facility and/or deep-water port.

It shall not be a defence to show that the spill was as a result of accident or lack of deliberate intentions.

Similarly, the responsible party on any oil spill shall in all cases report an oil spill incident to the agency in writing, by fax or electronic mail not later than 24 hours after the occurrence of an oil spill in default of which the failure to report shall attract penalty in the sum of N10 million for each day to report the occurrence.

In the same vein, a gas pipeline or storage facility owner/lessee/operator is by the Act to report an unauthorised gas release or leakage incident to the Agency in writing, by fax or electronic mail not later than 24 hours after the occurrence of the gas leakage in default of which the failure to report shall attract penalty in the sum of N10 million for each day of failure to report the occurrence.

Furthermore, the failure to clean up the impacted site by a spiller, to all practical extent including the submission of action plan for remediation within two weeks of the occurrence of the spill, shall constitute an offence and, upon conviction, the oil spiller shall be liable to a fine not less than N3 million per day the spill is not cleaned up or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or an amount up to three times the costs incurred by the Agency as a result of such failure.

It is quite unfortunate that millions of Nigerians are struggling to make ends meet simply because their source of livelihood is impacted by what is going on in their land. It is indeed the destruction of the right of communities to live in a safe, decent and healthy environment.

According to observers, oil spills in the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria have done great harm to both the people and their ecosystem. The spillage is estimated at more than 15 million barrels since oil production started in the late 1950s in the region. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report acknowledges that some of the spills of the over 40 years had not been cleaned or remediated till date.

Experts say that the ruling penultimate week by a Dutch court that partially held Royal Dutch Shell responsible for pollution in the region has set a precedent for global environmental accountability because companies can now be tried in their home countries for their acts or omissions in their host countries.

The oil giant was ordered to pay damages to one farmer, though the court dismissed four other allegations against the company. The amount of damages to be paid would be announced at a later date.

The case was brought against Shell by the farmers and the Dutch arm of the environment watchdog group, Friends of the Earth. It is the first time a Dutch multinational has been taken to a civil court in the Netherlands in connection with damage caused abroad.

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