By Perez BRISIBE
ENVIRONMENTAL right activists in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria have faulted claims by the Joint Military Taskforce, code-named Operation Delta Safe that the force has started the implementation of safer measures in the destruction of illegal refineries in the region.
The Land Component Commander of the force, Brig. Gen Kevin Aligbe, had explained to newsmen during a media parley in May that the force has embarked on the use of “special equipment to crush the accessories and materials used at illegal refining sites.”
The claim by Aligbe is coming amidst increase in vandalism, oil theft and illegal refining in the region with leading oil and gas exploration and producing company, Shell Petroleum Development Company recording five cases of sabotage in May alone.
Aligbe while condemning the crude distillation process used by illegal refineries which he attributed to the cause of pollution in the environment stated that only 30 per cent of the volume of crude stolen by illegal refiners is converted to products, adding that the remaining 70 per cent was wasted and dispersed in the surrounding environment near the camps.
He explained that troops of the command had introduced the use of swamp buggies in destroying illegal refineries as opposed to setting the camps ablaze which has made it economically unviable for such sites to spring up again after raids by the joint force.
However, this claim by the force has been punctured by the Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey as well as the Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sheriff Mulade.
The duo in separate remarks with Sweet Crude, condemned the continued devastation of the ecosystem by the military in its clampdown on illegal refineries.
Describing the devastation as an environmental problem, Nnimmo Bassey who is also a former Head of Friends of the Earth International, said: “These acts add to the environmental degradation of the region at a time when all efforts should be aimed at cleaning up six decades of unbridled pollution.”
“The way the security forces announce their highly polluting actions as achievement is highly embarrassing. The burning or bombing of the bush refineries is obviously not stopping the erection of more of them. Rather than burning the recovered stolen crude, they can be handed over to the companies from whose pipelines they were tapped.
“We have had occasion in the past to advise the security forces to adopt the environmentally safe method of dismantling the very basic constructions that the bush refineries are, and cart the materials, including the crude oil and refined products to places where they can be safely disposed of.”
On his part, Mulade said: “The destruction of illegal refineries is a reoccurring issue on a daily basis in the entire stretch of Warri South West local council area of Delta State.
“And as long as illegal refineries continue, the security agents would continue destroying them by spilling their contents into the river and as I speak with you, illegal refinery destruction is on-going and we can even see the smoke from Warri waterside.
“The security agents are doing a very good job but the way and manner they are handling the discarding of the ceased crude oil and its products, that is our concern because the emission, from the act is very dangerous and the lifespan of residents of these areas have been cut short because of this.
“We have told them to adopt environmental best approach to tackle this issue of illegal refinery. If you travel round the entire Warri South West, you would be shocked that the entire environment has been basterdized, the ecosystem destroyed, the livelihood of the people truncated.”