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Bayelsa plans ‘regulatory shock therapy’ for oil companies—Commissioner

By Samuel Oyadongha

IT is not going to be business as usual for the oil multinationals operating in Bayelsa State if the current move by the state government to save the state troubled environment is anything to go by. Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Iniruo Wills, who is also Chairman, Bayelsa State Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Environment, weekend, led other stakeholders on a tour of the troubled creeks of the state and spoke on the administrative, regulatory and legal enforcement measures being proposed by the state government to compel environmental best practice by the petroleum industry and other major operators in the state.

Gov Dickson
Gov Dickson

How would you react to the recent major spills from Shell and Agip facilities?  Yes, two recent oil spill disasters occurred from the facilities and operations of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited respectively in Bayelsa State.

Precisely on Sunday, 15th of February, 2015, crude oil was noticed spreading to Keme-Ebiama and other communities, along or around the Ogboinbiri River in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.

From the reports available to us, this crude oil spill was from Shell’s Seibou facility and may have occurred several weeks earlier, but an attempt was made to contain it by deploying a boom across the canal where much of the oil had flowed into. The boom failed and the oil spread into the River and is affecting the environment, health and social-economic life of the communities in the area.

The other crude oil spill occurred along Agip’s Ogboinbiri/Tebidaba pipeline, affecting Ikebiri community, and was first noticed by the community early in February. From indications, it happened when the clamping done to contain an earlier spill failed. The effects on the environment and surrounding communities are similar. These recent pollution disasters bring back into focus the grave plight that has become daily cliché for Bayelsa state and our hundreds of communities. In both cases, the response of these operators has been grossly unsatisfactory, reflecting a settled culture of corporate impunity that must be checked.

The priority placed on pollution prevention and diligent post spill management by the oil industry is abysmally low, and we shall henceforth insist on environmental excellence from operators who are in or whose operations affect our State. We will need the support of all stakeholders, and in particular the media, in doing this.

While we are intent on exploring all courteous means of getting oil industry operators to comply with Nigeria’s environmental laws and globally acceptable standards of oilfield practice, it is obvious to the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment that a considerable dose of regulatory shock therapy is needed to cure the errant practices of these corporate giants lest our ecological heritage continues to perish, while public health is further imperilled and local economies irretrievably  destroyed.

Given the cumulative life-and-livelihoods implications of perennial hydrocarbon pollution for the state and communities, what measures are being adopted or considered with respect to the instant spills and other pollution incidents, as well as for purposes of pollution prevention and deterrence..

The Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment will henceforth be involved in the detailed monitoring and oversight of pollution management activities from containment, recovery, clean up and remediation to restoration of affected sites, communities and ecosystems.

The ministry in collaboration with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency NOSDRA will require the registration, regulatory accreditation and/or pre-qualification of contractors and consultants before they are engaged for clean-up and remediation operations. We shall also confirm and certify satisfactory completion of work before the close out of such remedial operations.

This is in the light of our observation that most clean-up jobs are shoddily done, sometimes involving the hazard of burning forests and vegetation, either as a deliberate “clean up” measure or accidental,  but easily foreseeable consequence of unprofessional and poorly monitored execution. Our position is also informed by the rampant failure of the clamps put in place to contain previous spills, thus leading to fresh spillages.

For maximum effectiveness and transparency, we shall seek the collaboration and support of independent observers and experts, local and global, in the overhauling, monitoring and quality assurance of spills management, starting from joint investigation visits JIVs. Such support may include technical, logistical, financial, material and advocacy assistance.

The ministry and other relevant government institutions will explore avenues for securing prompt and adequate  redress for Bayelsa State government as a distinct stakeholder and for affected communities; such redress to include the payment of professionally valued compensations, civil and criminal fines, personal criminal prosecution of culpable corporate executives and operational officers, remediation and restoration.

The channels for this will include but by no means be limited to appropriate administrative and regulatory sanctions, lawsuits to be filed in suitable jurisdictions and in compelling situations the possible actuation of a formal (humanitarian) emergency status for pollution disasters, within the context of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

What is the government doing to ensure oil industry executive/administrators make their presence in the state?

To ensure environmental best practice and speedy spill management, we shall press for each major operator in the state to establish a functional executive presence in state. The nonchalant and clumsy management of oil pollution that had placed Bayelsa state as the worst petroleum-polluted geography in the entire world is largely due to the fact that the decision making executives of these polluting operators are stationed in cities too far away for them to care about the ravaging effects of their communities’ operations on Koluama, Ikebiri, Oluasiri, Keme-Ebiama, Biseni and other petroleum host communities in the state.

Shell has to upgrade from the mere liaison office it currently maintains to an executive/administrative base with high capacity manning levels commensurate with the volume of its operations in Bayelsa, which include some of the most prolific onshore fields in the country such ad OML 29. For Agip, Chevron and Consolidated Oil (Conoil), they have to set up similar presence, and they currently have none in the state. This will help to reverse the massive pollution and disaster trail and save our delicate ecology.

The Ministry will also work with other stakeholders to instigate two associated initiatives and these include a credible integrity and lifespan audit of the network of pipelines crisscrossing our state and an industry wide overhaul of pipeline surveillance systems.

In this connection, it is our hope that Federal Government institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NOSDRA, the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Niger Delta Development Commission on the one hand and the oil producers/pipeline operators on the other hand, along with key international bodies will work in concert to quickly commission a global comparative survey by the most reputable experts/firms and recommend best available technologies and practices in pipeline quality standards and monitoring systems.

 

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