Bonga: An oil spill and oil spill has ruined us and its many controversies- Bayelsa communities

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Emmanuel Addeh

Several times, oil spills have occurred in the Niger Delta as a result of upsurge in oil exploration and exploitation activities mostly undertaken by multinational companies.

The causes of oil spillage along the coast of the region are multifarious. According to experts, they range from corrosion of oil pipes and storage tanks, to sabotage by youths in the area in collusion with Nigeria’s security forces and careless handling of equipment during oil production operations.

Thus, many lives have been lost, coastal habitats and ecology destroyed, sources of livelihood cut off, while communities suffer ailments induced by the emission of various environmental pollutants in the course of oil exploitation.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme, after a three-year investigation of the area, showed heavy contamination of land and underground water sources, sometimes more than 40 years after oil had been spilled.

It further disclosed that the communities on the shoreline were drinking water with dangerous concentrations of benzene and other pollutants; while some experience soil contamination of more than five metres deep. In others, their water is coated with hydrocarbons more than 1,000 times the level allowed by Nigerian drinking water standards.

In the latest incident of oil leakage in Bonga, the country chair of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, said the company became aware of a slick at its offshore facility in Bonga on Tuesday, December 20, 2011.

Bonga is the first deepwater project for Nigeria and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, and was awarded during Nigeria’s first round of deepwater frontier acreage awards in 1993. Shell operates the field on behalf of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation under a production sharing contract.

Bonga lies 120km southwest of the Niger Delta, in a water depth of over 1,000m.

Sunmonu announced that the spill of about 40,000 barrels came from a leak and failure of an export line during transfer of oil from a floating storage facility to a cargo tanker, adding that efforts were on to contain it.

The incident led to the immediate shutdown of the company’s 200,000 barrels per day Bonga facility on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean, while Shell said it had deployed all its emergency response mechanism for the clean-up.

The slick, which is regarded as Nigeria’s worst offshore spill since the 1998 Mobil incident, is estimated to be 70 kilometres long and 17 kilometres wide and covers 923 square kilometres (356 square miles) of the ocean, according to a satellite imagery analysis.

But the visit of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency as well as the Senate Committee on Environment while Shell was still working on containing the leakage stirred anger, as the affected communities accused them of being “the mouthpiece” of the oil company.

The NOSDRA authorities assured that the Bonga oil spill was not moving towards Akwa Ibom State, contrary to the fear in some quarters.

The Director-General of NOSDRA, Mr. Peter Idabor, said, “I want to correct an impression here; the Akwa Ibom people are saying the oil moved backwards to their coast line, but at no time did the spill move backward towards Akwa Ibom State. If the people in Akwa Ibom are telling you that there is oil spill, they should come with the proof and they should bring the samples of the oil for us to examine.

“From the satellite imagery information at our disposal, all we noted was that the spill was moving upwards from the Bonga spill, through the effect of combined weather conditions towards the Forcados area.”

A team from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, led by Capt. Warredi Enisuoh, a Deputy Director of NIMASA, which took a sample from one of the affected communities however called on Shell to intensify efforts at halting the spread.

“At this point, we definitely know that there is a spill in the area, though Shell is doing what they can to contain that particular spill, we do have some more spills offshore around the Beniboye community of Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State.

“We have taken samples of that oil, but we cannot at this particular point in time confirm whether it is from the Bonga oil spill or not; only a scientific analysis will determine that,” Enisuoh said.

But the communities on the shoreline in Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and other Niger Delta states were already agitating that the spill was nearing their homes and farmlands and had, in fact, started affecting the ecology of the area, though Shell said its analysis of the situation showed that the leakage could never get to the shoreline where people live.

Some communities, especially in Delta and Bayelsa affected by the spillage are Odimodi, Beniboye, Isiayegbene, Gbidipou, Osumaghan, Agge, Amatu, Okibo-Zion, Agge-Okibo, Kare-epre, Okofaka, Belle-Zion, Youtu, Azamabiri, Koroborseigha, Fietonghan, Gbene, Osiagbene, Tubosuke, Egbe pou and Ogulagha

Shell explained that the emergency situation was brought under control with the assistance of many third parties locally and internationally in an operation it described as successful.

It also stated that a UK-based Oil Spill Response team flew in with a Hercules aircraft, assisted by another air plane from Ghana, which sprayed dispersants on the oil along with five sea-borne vessels and deployed booms to stop the spread of the oil and skimmers to recover spilled oil.

An overflight of the Bonga area, of which our correspondent was part, confirmed that some of the areas on the shoreline actually had traces of crude oil, but Shell noted that until the result of the laboratory test was released, it would not agree to pay compensation to any community.

The Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, has flayed the position of Shell, saying that contrary to reports that the oil multinational had cleaned up the recent oil spill in Bonga, the communities were already feeling the impact of the leakage.

Uduaghan lamented the impact of the Bonga oil slick on some communities in Delta State and across the Niger Delta states and called on Shell to give “full disclosure” of the impact and extent of damage of the spill.

“My position is that this is not the time to avoid responsibility on this issue. Shell should step forward and follow the examples of British Petroleum which had a similar experience (in America) and acted responsibly. Delta State will follow closely what happens in those communities and demand that necessary action be taken to restore the environment back to the people.”

Indeed, the Niger Delta has had a not so enviable history of oil spillages. For example, between 1976 and 1998, a total of 5,724 incidents were reported to have resulted in the spill of over 2.5 million barrels of oil into the environment.

The Escravos spill in 1978 of about 300,000 barrels, SPDC’s Forcados Terminal tank failure in 1978 of about 580,000 barrels, Texaco Funiwa-5 blow-out in 1980 of about 400,000 barrels, and the Abudu pipeline spill in 1982 of about 18,818 barrels had been some of the most devastating.

Also, the Jesse fire incident which was induced by another spill in Delta which claimed about a thousand lives and the Idoho oil spill in January 1998, in which about 40,000 barrels were spilled into the environment are now history.

Meanwhile, spokespersons of affected communities have threatened judicial action against the oil company.

“Failure to meet our demands, including the setting-up of an independent probe in the shortest time frame and compensation for our people, will make us to adopt other methods to pursue our case,” leader of the Iduwini National Movement For Peace and Development, which represents some of the affected areas, Mr. Presley Iyelagha, told SUNDAY PUNCH.


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