Tension over N-Delta ‘worst oil spill in a decade’

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By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa

Two alleged separate and massive oil spills are threatening several communities in Delta and Bayelsa States. Although crude oil spills have been a recurring decimal in the blighted oil and gas rich Niger Delta, the spill of December 20, 2011 from the Bonga oil field, off the western Atlantic coast close to Ekeremor local government area of Bayelsa State, has been described as the worst in more than a decade.

The spill is already causing ripples with stakeholders from the region alleging cover up.

The Bonga oil field is operated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCo, the deepwater exploration arm of Shell Nigeria which officials, last week, acknowledged workers only discovered the leak after seeing a sheen of crude in water surrounding the offshore oil field.

An estimated 40,000 barrels or 1.68 million gallons reportedly leaked from a damaged export line running from the FPSO to a waiting tanker fuelling anger from the locals.

Described as the largest leak off Nigeria since 1998, when a similar amount of oil leaked from a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline, Shell was compelled to shut down the 200,000 barrel a day facility, which generates 10% of Nigeria’s entire oil output, in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Tension, it was however learnt, heightened in the region as the incident assumed a new twist following the alleged discovery of a fresh oil spill, in the wake of the cleaning process, attributed to a third party operations by the oil giant.

An aerial survey, according to a report, revealed that the fresh oil spill, which was very close to the shore (hundreds of miles away from Bonga), was far massive than the level of the Bonga spill.

Besides, the report said, the colour of the Bonga spill was different from the fresh spill, as it was darker than that of Bongal.

Indigenes of the region are angered by the position of the alleged third party operators resulting in the massive spill.

Specifically, they frowned at the report and SPDC position confirming that the massive spill was from a third party

Oil Spill

operator, which has not been clearly identified.

Bonga oil has dispersed – SPDC

SPDC spokesman, Mr. Precious Okolobo, insisted that the remnants of the oil spill from its Bonga oil field could not have reached Odioma community in Brass council area of Bayelsa and other parts of the Niger Delta as claimed.

Okolobo, in a statement, said the spill from the Bonga oil field leakage had since been dispersed and could not have spread more than 120 kilometers away.

“Satellite imagery and aerial surveillance indicate that the remnants of the oil spill from Bonga could not have reached either the Odioma coastline or other parts of the Niger Delta, as has been suggested,” he stated.

“By Sunday, December 25th, the oil from Bonga had largely dispersed. However, around the same time as our efforts to clean up the Bonga oil offshore were coming to a successful conclusion, we noticed a clear trail of oil that we believe could not have been from Bonga more than 120 kilometers away. This trail of oil was fresh and clearly from a vessel given the distinctly different colour, shape and smell.

“As any good corporate citizen, we immediately began to address this fresh spill with dispersants. Unfortunately, our efforts were not completely successful and we now know some of the oil has hit isolated parts of the beach.

“Though this oil did not come from Bonga, we will clean it up. We have also taken samples of this oil which will be analysed by an independent lab. We are confident the results will show the oil on the beach or in these areas is not from the Bonga facility.”

‘Bonga oil spillage and SPDC’s abracadabra’

Osteen Igbapike, lawyer to Odimodi, Isiayei-Gbene, Beniboye and Samayin-Gbidipou in Burutu local government area of Delta State, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, expressed outrage over the Federal Government’s handling of the spill, citing the United States government role in the case of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which held BP accountable for deepwater spill last year.

His words, “I have read with utter embarrassment the comments of the honourable minister of environment – Hajia Adiza Ibrahim Mailafia- after an inspection of the Bonga deep offshore facility in company of the Director-Generals (DGs) of NIMASA and NOSDRA on the very unfortunate oil spillage which spilled about 40,000 barrels (using Shell’s own estimate) of crude oil into Nigeria’s maritime area. The Bonga oil field belongs to Shell but is operated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO).

“Hajia Adiza Ibrahim Mailafia was quoted to have said ‘the country was lucky that the spill had not hit the coastline… that the use of dispersants for the cleanup has been very effective…’ This comment from no lesser person than the honourable minister of environment shows that the country is in deep trouble environmentally as it is obvious that our honourable minister is not abreast with the environmental statutes of Nigeria and the international conventions that Nigeria is a signatory to.

“ Nigeria is a maritime state with a maritime area of 46,510sq km. Nigeria has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 210, 900 sq km and 853km of coastline which is shared by all of Nigeria’s coastal states of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo Ondo, Lagos, etc.

“This is the area wherein Shell’s SNEPCO has negligently on the 20th of December, 2011 during routine operations to transfer crude oil from Bonga FPSO vessel to a waiting tanker through an export line linking the FPSO polluted with 40,000 barrels of oil which could be more if proper assessment and inspection of the spill facility is carried out strictly following due process.

“Nigeria and those on whom the buck rest on issues of protecting the environment have learnt nothing from the very recent Gulf of Mexico oil spillage wherein 45,000 gallons of crude was spilt and the lessons from oil spill response from the regulatory Agency the USELPA. The Bonga Oil Spill is a point source and a third tier spill.

” A third tier spill ought to be a national emergency and the response cannot be led by the polluter itself. What is

Oil Spill

happening now from the Bonga spill is that the polluter is in charge of the regulators because the regulators do not have helicopters, vessels, dispersants, booms and the expertise to manage oil spill response.

“It is also my view that the Nigeria government has shown disinterest in this oil spill because of their equity holding in the oil exploration and production business especially when the Nigerian economy is oil-driven.”

Alleged cover-up

Also, indigenes and fishermen of Bayelsa communities on the Atlantic fringe have faulted Shell’s claim, alleging the gradual spread of crude oil supposedly from SPDC Bonga oil field into their rivers and waterways and other parts of the region.

The fears of the people of the coastal communities are not limited to Bayelsa State alone as those in Delta State have also expressed similar fears.

The people Bisangbene, one of the host communities to the multi billion SPDC EA oil field in Ekeremor local government area in Bayelsa West, and Odioma community in Brass local government area in the Bayelsa East, on Tuesday, expressed concern over the massive crude oil leakage into their waterways and rivers.

Thick crude slick, the people of these predominantly fishing communities said, is already sighted along the Bisangbene river, the Fish Camp 2 at the Vanish Island and the St. Nicholas Cove along the Atlantic shoreline close to Odioma on the Atlantic fringe of Ekeremor and Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The crude slick, it was also learnt, hadspread to Beniboye, Odimodi and Ogulagha and Forcados rivers in Burutu council area of Delta State.

There were also traces of the spill in oil-rich Ugborodo communities on the Atlantic fringe – where journalists in Warri undertook a joint inspection with NIMASA officials to see the extent of the impact of the pollution.

The secretary of Community Development Committee (CDC) of Bisangbene, Mr. Goodnews Gereghewei, in a telephone interview  from the coastal enclave, said the development had  forced the local fishermen to withdraw from the river.
“As you know, our occupation is predominantly fishing and our fishermen have withdrawn from the sea because of the massive oil spill and  fear not be roasted alive since they fish mostly at night with local lamp,” he said.

Though the community scribe said they sighted SPDC helicopters and vessels applying chemicals (dispersants) to contain the spill, “the volume of  the spill is causing serious environmental and health hazard to our people now.”

In the Bilabiri I & II, the natives have also complained that crude slick  grounded fishing activities in the area.
A community leader, Franklin Simon,  said, “Our people who are deep sea fishermen can no longer ply their trade because of the noticeable pollution believed to have been caused by leakage from the Bonga oil field.”

He accused the oil giant of trying to down play the consequences of the spill from its facility on the environment ostensibly because of the backlash of the Gulf of Mexico crisis.

Also, a report by the environmental campaign group, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth (FoEN), showed that the indigenes of Odioma community, along the coastal shores in the Brass council area, are gripped by the fear of massive pollution of the river by the spillage  and  threat to the means of their livelihood.

In the release issued by the field monitors of the group on their interaction with some community elders in Odioma on the Atlantic fringe including Elder James Sampson aka Ovie Kokori, Danyo Ogoniba and Ayeomane Ayela, they confirmed the thick presence of the spillage moving into the rivers of the community.

Ayela said the fishermen from the community started noticing the incursions of the spill about a week ago. He went on: “But  it came ashore about two days ago. Oil spills affect our fishing and  this one is not an exception. We used to catch enough fish before but it is difficult now. I go into the ocean almost every day and, since we began experiencing this spill, we have been unhappy.

“If you had come when we had full tide, you would have noticed the crude oil slick all around the waterside. Now, the water has ebbed, though you can still see signs of crude oil at the water front. We are not happy because it takes extra effort to avoid the slick from contaminating our fishing nets. Once your net has stains of crude oil fishes will run away from the net because they will see it.

“As you can see we are powerless; we cannot order the government on what to do. But I think a responsible government should be able to appreciate our plight and assist us. Because of this kind of situation, we are becoming debtors as we hardly even meet up the payment of the fuel we use for our ocean-going boats. We want Shell to clean up the spill and compensate us for loss of livelihood. Our business has been impacted. Bonga fish that used to come to the surface are no more. The company should not deny us of our Bonga with their Bonga facility.”

The ERA, in its report, released through the Bayelsa Field Office and signed by Morris Alagoa, called on the Federal Government to compel Shell to state the actual amounts of oil spewed from its facility and demand that Shell also reveal the names and types of chemical dispersants used in fighting the spill.

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