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Oil spills: Environmentalists berate Shell for defying regulatory compliance

Environmentalists on Thursday, October 22, 2020 berated the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) for poor compliance to regulatory verdict on oil spill matters in its operational fields in the Niger Delta region.

OIL SPILL AT IBUU CREEK OKWUZI
Ibuu Creek polluted by an oil spill, in Okwuzi Community in Rivers State. Photo credit: Dandy Mgbenwa

They recalled that the spill regulatory agency, National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), had fined SNEPCO, a Shell subsidiary, $3.6 billion for the Bonga oil spill on December 20, 2011 that affected over 20 riverine communities across Akwa Ibom State.

The oil firm however went to court to challenge the fine and lost at the Federal High Court.

A fact-check on the claim indicated that Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos, had on June 20, 2018, upheld the $3.6 billion fine imposed on Shell by NOSDRA, dismissing Shell’s case.

However, Shell declined to pay the fine.

The environmentalists under the auspices of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), at a forum with spill impacted communities in Ikara, Bayelsa State, applauded the NOSDRA for its objectivity.

Mr Alagoà Morris, the Head, Bayelsa Office of ERA/FoEN, who represented the Acting Executive Director of the group, Mr Chima Williams, spoke on the theme: “Resisting Regulatory Capture”.

The NGO frowned on alleged frequent disregard to regulatory directives on oil spill incidents and wondered if the oil firm was self-regulatory, adding that a situation where an operator disagreed frequently with regulators “is unhealthy’’.

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“As indicated in the theme, this event is unique as it seems to discourage any attempts at regulatory capture.

“One of the main areas of disagreements between stakeholders in the oil industry is in cause of spill as a lot depends on it.

“While there is nothing wrong in any stakeholder contesting whatever is declared as cause of spill, there are certain things to be considered in arriving at declaring the cause.

“In Nigeria, oil industry regulators are supposed to be referees. NOSDRA and state ministries of environment are the regulators.

“As a grassroots organisation, ERA has been working with several communities over the years. Ikarama community is one of those communities. From our records, Ikarama is the community with the highest frequency of documented oil spills.

“The oil spill along Shell’s Adibawa-Okordia delivery line on Nov. 12, 2011, was one of the clear cases of corrosion incidents,” Morris said.

The SPDC had rejected the conclusion of NOSDRA that the Nov 12, 2011, leak on the Adibawa-Okordia pipeline was due to corrosion leading to the subjection to further ultrasonic tests and scans which confirmed the pipe was corroded.

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Mr Idris Musa, the Director-General of NOSDRA, had said that the agency took the steps to ensure that its conclusions were validated by scientifically accepted best practices.

The people of Ikarama community in Okordia clan of Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa had  threatened to shut down operations of SPDC over alleged failure to pay them compensation and remediate their environment impacted by oil spill.

Aggrieved members of the host community said that the incident on Okordia-Rumuekpe Trunk Line owned by the SPDC in November 2019 destroyed their cassava farmlands, rubber plantation, fishing lakes and other means of livelihood.

The community members including the paramount ruler, Chief Herbert Alfred Lamie, claimed that Shell abandoned them over 10 months after the incident.

Lamie lamented regular spills in their community and asked the oil firm to remediate the impacted environment and pay victims, community for general and specific damages done to them.

“We want Shell to come and clean up the area and pay the necessary compensation. But if Shell refuses to come and do the needful, we will not allow them to operate on their manifold.” Lamie said.

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Also speaking, the Youth President of Ikarama community, Mr Warder Benjamin, corroborated the monarch’s position, saying that spills in the community were usually caused by corrosion as some of pipelines had become too old.

He said they had written series of letters to the oil company since the incident took place yet there was no response.

“We have had a series of corrosion spills along the pipeline within the interval of 500 metres. The whole thing points to the fact that the pipes have decayed and are due for replacement.

“How can you use that pipeline since in the 1960s and expect it not to have issues? It has been there transporting oil, yet they will come to accuse the community of vandalising their pipelines.

“That is injustice. That injustice must stop. This particular spill is caused by corrosion and Shell has to be held responsible,” Benjamin said.

When contacted for reaction, Michael Adande, an SPDC spokesman, said that he would issue an updated position of the oil firm but was yet to do so at the time of filing the report.

By Nathan Nwakamma

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