Oil spill has ruined us- Bayelsa communitites

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Mike Odiegwu

The struggling people of Okpotuwari and Ondowari communities in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State are in misery. Lamentations have enveloped the peasant settlements which depend largely on the gifts of nature for their survival. Their angst began in December 2011 when crude oil started spewing from a facility belonging to Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd.

The communities watched helplessly as large quantity of crude oil gushed unceasingly into their environment. They first noticed it on December 10, alerted the management of the oil giant in Brass Island through text messages and a letter, but there was no swift response from the company. Instead, some representatives of the oil firm used a helicopter to survey the spill site and later returned to their operating base.

But the crude oil poured endlessly and kept spreading to farmlands and streams. Crops were damaged, soil nutrients died and rivers were polluted, leading to death of fish. The affected communities suddenly found their water poisonous for drinking and other domestic uses. Yet, Agip kept mute and allowed the spill to continue.

The communities’ disturbing outcries got to the Environmental Right Action and compelled its representative in the state, Mr. Alagoa Morris, to visit the spill site on December 30. The NGO gave a damning report of the situation.

Part of the report said, “From the way the crude was gushing out from the block fence on the ground, ERA’s field monitors could say with some measure of accuracy that no less than a barrel of crude oil was being spewed into the environment every minute of the day.

“And, if this estimate is correct (plus or minus), it means 60 barrels of crude oil going into the environment every one hour, making it about 1,440 barrels per day. The total quantity of crude oil volume so spewed for the two weeks or so that the spill has continued will be calculated from this perspective.

“Agip should not be allowed to have its cake and eat it, too; as it has deliberately allowed the spill to continue. Oil companies are fond of underestimating spilt crude. This should not be allowed. The act perpetrated by Agip in this case does not only display corporate irresponsibility, it smacks of environmental racism and double standard, because Agip cannot do this in Italy or in the environment of any other advanced nation.”

Despite the organisation’s report, however, Agip was not moved. It allowed the spill to continue till January 9, 2012 before stopping it. This means that the oil company allowed the spillage to last for 30 days before containing it. It is, therefore, estimated that over 43,200 barrels of crude oil spewed into the environment within the period.

But then, the damage has been done. The environment has been messed up and the communities implored Agip to begin immediate clean-up. However, the pleas seem to have been ignored so far, as the quantum of crude has remained, with its devastating effects. Instead, Agip has engaged the communities in a wrangling over the cause of the spill. While the company claimed that it was the handiwork of saboteurs, the communities insisted that it was caused by equipment failure. A Joint Investigative Visit instituted to ascertain the cause of the spill ended in crisis, as the representatives of the company refused to sign the report.

The General Chairman of the Community Development Committee in Okputuari, Mr. Tamuna Job, lamented the destructive effects of the spill in the communities. He wondered why Agip has refused to embark on a cleaning exercise, insisting that the spill was caused by wear and tear of the oil multinational’s equipment. Specifically, he claimed that a nut from the facility loosened, adding that Agip is shying away from accepting the truth to avoid paying the required compensation.

“We cannot agree with them that somebody went and loosened the nut. It is not true, because we know that wear and tear can make a nut to loosen by itself. We have convened a general meeting with the community to decide on the next line of action. We are worried that Agip has not deemed it fit to clean the spill. They always do that because they think we are naïve and cannot do them anything.

“They believe that we don’t have anybody in government and that there is no one in the company to ask for our rights. We are disturbed that a company that is supposed to be environmentally responsible would allow a spill to last for a month. It is unfortunate. The whole area is devastated. It was a spill that was estimated to have a barrel per minute. The spill has finished us.

“A similar matter like this happened in 2008 and in 2009. In the case of 2008, the company certified that it was an equipment failure. The Okpotuari community was only called upon for relief material. They promised calling us for compensation but right from then till now, nothing has happened.”

But ERA, while making some demands said, “Agip should stop this double standard of environmental safety in their operations in the Niger Delta. The company should apply known best practices and promptly respond to incidents of spill, with a view to minimising damage to the ecosystem.

“Relevant government agencies should hold Agip responsible for negligence and ensure that proper fine is placed on the company. Agip should carry out proper recovery of spilt crude, clean up and remediate impacted environment. Agip should pay adequate compensation to victims of this spill.”

When Agip was contacted, the company refused to speak on the matter. Agip Manager at Brass, Bayelsa State, Mr. Kaine Elvis, said he was not competent to speak on the matter. He also refused to connect our correspondent to the company’s spokesperson.


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