Comrade Alagoa Morris, Head, Bayelsa Office of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) at a media session themed: “Resisting Regulatory Capture” on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, explains why the organisation is concerned with the Okordia-Rumuekpe Trunk-Line oil spill incident that occurred in November 2019
As indicated in the theme, this event is unique as it seeks to discourage any attempts at regulatory capture. One of the main areas of disagreement between stakeholders in the oil industry operations is determination of the 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. The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and State Ministries of Environment are the regulators.
As a grassroots organisation, ERA/FoEN has been working with several communities over the years. Ikarama community is one of these communities. From our records, Ikarama is the community with the highest frequency of documented oil spills, with most of the spills declared officially as caused by third party interference by the regulators.
However, while accusing fingers are also pointed at Shell staff/contractors as instigating some of the spills; there have been few officially documented cases of equipment failure (either caused by corrosion or faulty valves).
The oil spill along Shell’s Adibawa-Okordia Delivery Line on November 12, 2011 was one of the clear cases of corrosion incidents.
It is of concern that while some of the oil spills, like those of June/July, 2009 inside the Okordia Manifold situated in the community were argued as equipment failure incidents by community folks, Shell allegedly remained silent and failed to do the needful in terms of compensation.
Also, ERA/FoEN has documented in its field report a case where community folks alleged that a spill incident declared as equipment failure, and Shell denied the victims copies of the JIV reports until the company’s operational vehicle was seized before copy of the JIV report was made available to them.
In another incident, a community folk who was asked to accompany Shell to collect copy of a JIV report was allegedly pushed down from a car; because Shell never wanted the community to have evidence of equipment failure related oil spills in that environment. There are living witnesses to the allegations above.
Interestingly, the current spill incident in contention occurred in November 2019 as the flood of that year was receding. At the time the spill was discovered, accessibility was only via canoe and the height of flood/water was at chest or neck level for adults.
Besides the fact that the spill point was discovered at 6 0’clock point on the pipe, after excavation in the presence of Shell, regulators, community folks and soldiers; Shell held the view that the spill was caused by third party as against community position of equipment failure.
Eight months after the incident, the ruptured section of the oil bearing pipeline was cut and taken to NOSDRA office in Yenagoa for test.
Shell brought expert with an instrument for the test and, because the regulators also understood the testing instrument, they declared the spill to have been caused by corrosion; due to the thin, corroded inner layer of the pipe. However, Shell is insisting that the spill was not caused by equipment failure but third party.
ERA/FoEN has reported two other equipment failure incidents within this particular pipeline environment in the past; one of them most likely only few metres from this particular spot under contention. This is the third equipment failure incident in that pipeline, not far from each other in recent times.
At this juncture, it is only proper to ask if Shell wants to regulate itself in the oil industry. Besides that, Shell should produce the individuals who have caused the spill. It is not enough to insist and argue with the regulators who have declared several spills as caused by third party in the community environment.
Community folks and family members of the impacted environments are here with us. And they can express themselves. It would be nice hearing from them, as they tell the nation and the world their experience with Shell, in terms of how they have been treated with respect to oil spills.
ERA/FoEN will not watch and allow victims of oil industry operations suffer denial, even when it is obvious that they shouldn’t be so treated by their tenants. We stand with the regulators on this, considering the peculiar circumstances of the discovery of the spill in a flooded environment, and the test conducted on the ruptured section of the pipe.