By Sonny Atumah
The 26th United States President, Theodore Roosevelt recognised that the vast natural resources of the United States were not limitless so should be managed carefully for the betterment of his people. He acknowledged that American citizens are the most valuable natural resources. To him protection of human health was central and valid for the conservation movement which he developed for the sustainable use and protection of natural resources.
America after Roosevelt continued with justice which is the act of applying or upholding the law. Protection of the environment and justice has therefore endured in the American dream of strong institutions that cannot be manipulated.
Upholding environmental protection and justice, the United States Government sued BP when it claimed BP pumped millions of barrels of oil into the Deep-water Horizon of Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. BP’s oil well cement seal failed with resultant oil spill causing what was regarded as the worst environmental disaster in the United States.
Claims were that dolphins and whales, seabirds, fish, turtles, subsea vegetation and even sediment species were affected. Six years on scientists and environmentalists are still studying the long term effects on wildlife and habitats, people and the environment.
A judge ruled that BP was responsible for the release of 3.1 million barrels of oil. BP is paying a calculated $54billion including legal and cleanup costs, Clean water Act penalty, natural resource damages, economic claims to five states, 400 Local Governments claim, in what has been acclaimed the biggest pollution penalty in recorded history.
In Nigeria gory details and fairy tales abound as thousands of oil spills blight the Niger Delta. Natural gas flaring and burning of associated natural gas produced with oil, have greatly contributed to environmental pollution. Also aging infrastructure, poor maintenance and illegal bunkering have all contributed to oil spills and Eco systemic degradation.
The region’s communities have constantly and consistently blared tantaras yet the ecological miasmas from International Oil Companies (IOCs) have continued unabated. Recrimination has made the Niger Delta people to be seen as crybabies in response to toxic oil and gas activities in the region.
Most IOCs have had cause spills to blame vandalism, and declare force majeure (a legal clause that allows a party not to satisfy contractual agreements because of circumstances beyond their control that prevent them from fulfilling contractual obligations) on oil shipments.
A UNDP report stated a total of 6817 oil spills between 1976 and 2001. Of the estimated 3million barrels recorded, 69 percent occurred offshore, a quarter in swamps and 6 percent on land. Unofficial sources put oil spills in tens of millions of barrels between 1958 and 2015.
Our laws stipulate that oil companies are responsible for containing and cleaning up spills and returning affected areas to their prior state which is remediation. Many IOCs have cleverly divested from their onshore licence blocks with new assets purchasers and operators inheriting spills not completed by the Sales and Purchase Agreement dates.
Degradation from IOCs activities has continued unabated, unattended to, under reported and with elusive justice, communities now seek justice in offshore courts in the UK and The Hague. Global Issues Director of Amnesty International, Audrey Gaughran in 2015 said the Royal Dutch Shell reported 204 Niger Delta spills in 2014 while ENI reported 349 spills in Niger Delta in 2014, giving a total of 553 a contrast of only 10 spills across Europe between 1971 and 2011.
According to Gaughran, ‘’in any other country this would be a national emergency. In Nigeria it appears to be a standard operating procedure for the oil industry. The human cost is horrific- people living with pollution everyday of their lives.”
To protest IOCs petroleum exploitation the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1992 demanded royalties, damages and compensations, and immediate stoppage of environmental degradation. It got to a head that two Ogoni groups perceived as conspiratorial adversaries hounded each other. Prominent playwright and environmental activist Kenule Saro Wiwa could not survive the hangman’s noose in the struggle.
The immediate past administration mandated the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to assess the damage by petroleum exploration and production in Ogoniland. Their Report of August 4 2011 showed widespread contamination of drinking water, land, creeks and vital ecosystems.
The report called for emergency measures to combat immediate harm to communities from the pollution of drinking water, and an initial funding of US$1 billion to implement an environmental clean-up in Ogoniland. There is also the promise that $10 million deposit be made by stakeholders for a Trust Fund.
President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015 initiated moves on the Ogoni remediation and approved the composition of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) with members yet to be named. His UNEP Headquarters sideline visit in Nairobi on January 28 2016 was more than a hope that glimmered in hearts of environmentalists as he echoed the Ogoni report implementation.
We commend President Buhari’s efforts but a strong legal and regulatory framework is needed to identify who does what. One foresees an expectant blame culture between and among agencies brewing in the roles of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the National Environmental Standard and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and the Department of Petroleum Resources.
The Pollution Control Department of the Ecological Fund Office is meant to supervise matters relating to General Environmental Pollution and Oil spillage and industrial pollution. There is also the Federal Ministry of Environment. This multiplicity of government Departments and Agencies all smattering with overlapping functions, would create a scenario of achieving results in the Ogoni debacle and elsewhere in good time extremely difficult if not impossible.