*Says devastation of Niger Delta environment like Hiroshima sight
…Notes efforts ongoing to introduce stiffer punishment for environmental pollution
*Plans stakeholders meeting with Ogoni communities
*As company blames locals for Nembe incident
*Nigeria records 4,919 oil spills in 6 years
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Prince Okafor
THE Federal Government yesterday described the devastation done to the Niger Delta environment by oil and gas production activities and accidents as something comparable to the sights of Hiroshima in Japan, after World War II, and announced plans to institute stiffer punishments for companies involved in oil spillage in the country.
Minister of State for Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, who disclosed this at the weekly ministerial press briefing organised by the Presidential Media Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja said the level of devastation in the Niger Delta is massive , adding that her office is planning to meet stakeholders in Ogoniland on the ongoing clean-up exercise to get their own assessment on how far government had gone.
She described the situation as terrible, hinting that the Federal Government is working on strengthening legal regulations guiding responses to oil spills and similar accidents.
Meanwhile, Vanguard reports that Nigeria has recorded no fewer than 4,919 oil spills in the last six years.
‘NOSDRA law amendment in the works’
Fielding question on the recent oil spillage on an OML 29 wellhead in Nembe area of Bayelsa State, which has reportedly devastated the environment, Mrs. Ikeazor said her ministry was working on effecting a legislative review of some of the laws guiding functions within the sector.
According to her, a bill is being worked out to amend the law establishing the National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, to build its capacity and give it “the needed teeth to bite.”
She said: “What you’ve just described I got the briefing from the DG of NOSDRA and what I saw in terms of the pollution, either through oil refining, through illegal oil refining, and otherwise, the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive.
“As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on. So, it’s something that government has to tackle head on. I wish we had put the picture, there was a picture I saw, it was like Hiroshima sight. You remember Hiroshima in Japan? It was terrible. So, this is something we have to tackle head on. We are beyond talking and having workshops.
“Then on the issue of penalties, that’s why I mentioned earlier, the review of NOSDRA Act, if you know, most of our Acts were passed years ago, so you’ll find maybe they’ll give N100,000 fine. Anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute. So, we need to put stiffer penalties in place, build the capacity of NOSDRA, which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector, to have the teeth to be able to bite.
“Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they can’t do much. These are areas we’re looking into, it has to stop.
On the Santa Barbara Aiteo oil spills, you remember the Ministry of Environment issued a statement stating what happened and the action being taken. It is a collective action between the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Environment and the oil company involved.
“It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening.
“They are also claiming that the spill was due to sabotage by the local communities. We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installations and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative means of livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment.
‘Situation under control’
“The situation has been brought under control. I got a brief from DG of NOSDRA, who was out on the field. So, now, work has to start on the proper clean up.
“Government is working on alternative mean of livelihood for the communities, so that we can move them away from illegal activities and further polluting of the environment,.’’
On improving the livelihoods of youths of the Niger-Delta region, she said: “Government is working on creating alternative mean of livelihood for them so we can move them away from illegal refining and further polluting the environment.
“For now, we have been able to train about 400 women in agri-business and entrepreneurial skills and also we have got them to form themselves into 20 cooperatives, through which they can be gainfully employed into project sites.
“We have created about 735 direct jobs and as the clean-up project continues at the complex sites, we will be able to employ a lot more of the youths.’’
The minister lamented that the rate of deaths from smoke-induced illnesses, especially among women in the country, noting that it is the highest in the world.
She said government hopes to reintroduce clean cook stove and the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cook stove initiative to ameliorate the problem and protect the nation’s biodiversity.
On the achievements of the ministry, Ikeazor observed that Nigeria has sent a strong message to the world with the signing of the climate change bill into an act by President Muhammadu Buhari.
‘Nigeria’s commitment to Paris climate change pact on course’
On measures taken so far, she affirmed the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
She said: “I will like to state that Nigeria has delivered the loudest statement after COP26. By the President signing the climate change bill into an Act, we have shown a very strong commitment.
“So, the next step now under the Ministry of Environment is the implementation of all these commitments and strategies as well as the national plans we have in place.”
She urged citizens to play their part in the effort to ensure a sustainable environment in the country, adding: “For an environment that we can live in harmony with, each and every one of us has to be a part of the sustainable environment that we all dream for. We must implement and accelerate the Great Green Wall project which is basically to review and reverse desertification and land degradation in the Northern part of Nigeria.”
On the Ogoni cleanup exercise, she said: “We must accelerate the Ogoni cleanup, to make sure the remediation is completed in time for the good people of Ogoni but at the same time, we must tackle the issue of artisanal refining because as we are cleaning, some are still polluting the environment and we ask that this must stop, for us to have a clean and decent environment.”
She said the Ministry of Environment was actively adopting strategies to help address environmental challenges confronting the country.
On the high price of cooking gas which has resulted in the cutting down of trees for firewood to cook, the Minister said: “I am worried because the rate of cutting down trees has increased.”
She said government was working hard and creating alternative for the people in the devastated Niger Delta area in order to move them away from further polluting the environment.
Nigeria records 4,919 oil spills in 6 years
A breakdown of this development shows that the number of oil spills cost by collation is 308, operational maintenance is 106, while alleged sabotage is 3,628 and yet to be determined 70, giving the total number of oil spills on the environment to 235,206 barrels of oil.
Approximately, Nigeria lost N4.75 trillion on oil activities in the four years between 2015 and 2018, as estimated by the Nigeria Natural Resources Charter.
Between 1976 and 1991, over two million barrels of oil polluted Ogoniland in 2,976 separate oil spills. While oil production has ceased, pipelines operated by Shell still traverse the land, creeks and waterways.
Leakages caused by corroded pipelines as well as bandits mean that the area is still plagued by oil spills.
Also, in 2008 and 2009, two massive oil spills in the fishing town of Bodo, in Rivers State, had a catastrophic impact. Thick black oil leaked into rivers and creeks for weeks, killed fish and robbed people of their source of livelihood.
The 55-year-old pipeline owned by Shell ruptured twice, throwing up 600,000 barrels of crude oil into the surrounding creeks of the Niger Delta.
According to NOSDRA, the nation in 2020, recorded around 372 publicly available oil spills.
A breakdown of the development shows that, nine of these oil spill sites were not visited by a Joint Investigation team. About 76 of these had no estimated quantity of oil spilled provided by the company.
Based on reports available, 21,822.173 barrels of oil (3,447,903.375 litres) were spilled. That’s around 109 oil tanker trucks full.
Major oil spills (over 250 barrels spilled into inland waters, or over 2,500 barrels spilled on land, swamp, shoreline and open sea).
Also, 24 medium oil spills (25-250 barrels spilled into inland waters, or 250-2,500 barrels spilled on land, swamp, shoreline and open sea).
In addition, 258 minor oil spills (up to 25 barrels spilled into inland waters, or 250 barrels spilled on land, swamp, shoreline and open sea), while 167 of these were under 10 barrels in size, 86 oil spills could not be categorised.