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Shell’s Bonga oil spill and host communities

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Environment Watch By Ambrose Inusa Sule, mnes

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After Last December oil spillage from Bonga field belonging to Shell Nigeria, leaders of the 64 affected communities in Bayelsa State have threatened to sue the oil company both in Nigeria and Europe for environmental pollution.
The communities have cried out that their people are dying, due to unquantifiable damage from the oil spill that have destroyed their means of livelihood. The spill which has not been cleaned up till date has reportedly wrecked havoc on their aquatic lives and farmlands.
The Bonga Field, which produces both petroleum and natural gas, is located off coastal areas of the Niger delta, whose recent oil spill, claimed to be the worst in a decade, has visited untold hardship on the hapless populace of the area.
It has also been reported that all entreaties to Shell to clean up these communities has fallen on deaf ears, as it has not shown serious commitment to solving the problem.
Since the spill, many deaths have been reported, besides a number of other natives that have suffered from various strange ailments.
One cannot but sympathize with these hapless communities considering that fishing is their main occupation, as their waters have been polluted by the oil spill.
The question is Shell that has all it takes to clean up the affected communities, has delayed the clean for no plausible reason.
More worrisome is the claim by leaders of the communities that Shell is busy dividing the people by inciting one community against the other instead of addressing the problem.
Without any equivocation, the people of the Niger Delta are certainly living in hell, considering the monumental environmental problems coupled with the flaring of gas that has been their lots due to oil exploration and exploitation in the area.
The ceaseless acid rain, which makes newly laid zinc on houses to rust within days and noise pollution to various diseases are all induced by gas flaring.
The air and water stinks, and even the fish and crabs caught in the creeks smell oil, as the oil has found its way deep into the village wells, it lies thick in the mud flats and there are brown and yellow slicks all along the lengthy network of creeks, swamps, mangrove forests and rivers in the entire coastal areas of Niger delta.
This is due to the devastating oil spills over the past five decades, causing serious environmental and health hazards in waterways. The extent of damage to the region was a pointer in a report by the United Nations that it will cost $1bn to rectify and take up to 30 years to clean up the region.
That there have been numerous complaints is an understatement. In fact, there have been numerous complaints resulting in conflicts between oil and gas operators and their host communities. With a view to proffering solutions and ensuring a smooth industry’s community relationship in the oil and gas sector, the federal government had severally initiated various stakeholders’ forums where several agreements were reached to stop gas flaring in the country.
The argument of the oil and gas operators has been that an entire new Clean Technology had to be imported before the flaring of gas could be stopped in the Nigeria.
Worried by the lukewarm attitude of most companies in the energy sector towards a set date to stop gas flaring, both the executive and the legislative arms of the federal government have at different times made some tremendous efforts which culminated in the agreement of the first set date of 2004.
As usual, high-wire politics was introduced and the goal post has always been shifted due to what many watchers considered as under-the-table maneuvering by major oil and gas operators.
When it was dawn on the federal government that leaving the oil and gas operators to keep shifting the date may not augur well for the people and the environment in the oil and gas producing area, it warned that come 2008, stiff penalties await defaulters as it would no longer accept the excuses given by the operators meeting the deadline.
The federal government was particularly disturbed that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), a major operator in the sector could be complaining about its inability to meet the deadline.
Does the federal government lack the courage to use the big stick, as it had failed to adhere to international standards?
­For smaller companies in the sector, government assured that a time-table would be worked out based on their capacities.
Several round-table discussions took place in order to address such as gas policy; funding, technology transfer and environmental problems.
It is a common knowledge that Nigeria flares gas more than any other country in the world which accounted to about 24 percent of the world total.
According to available statistics, up to 80 percent of petroleum associated gases estimated at 2 million standard cubic feet are flared each day; a situation which has not changed much till date. The adverse impact on the people and environment are enormous. One of the major efforts to achieve the objectives of gas flare stoppage program in the country was the setting up of a National Forum on the Monitoring of National Gas Utilization and implementation of Related Projects.
The objective of the forum was to put pressure on oil and gas operators to stop gas flaring in a wasteful, unwholesome, environment unfriendly manner.
The efforts of the forum culminated in better cooperation from the oil and gas operators and the subsequent agreement to drastically reduce gas flare level from 68 percent in 1999 to 42 percent in 2003. And it was expected that there would be a further reduction to 25 percent by the end of the year 2004, which was initially set as the deadline for achieving zero gas flare.
With more than Nigeria’s gas reserve of 114.42 billion cubic feet, statistical and ecological facts, show that about 70.2 recent of the total gas production in Nigeria is being flared on a regular daily basis to economic disadvantage to the country, with an estimated monthly gas production of l16 million cubic meters.
The greatest effort by the federal government to achieving zero gas flare is the setting up of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Clean Development Mechanism (PICCDM), to source for foreign funding for gas utilization projects m the country.
A new dimension was introduced to the politics of zero gas flare deadline of 2008 in the country by the federal High Court ruling for gas flaring to be stopped immediately.
The Court considered gas flaring in the Niger Delta areas in Nigeria as violation of the fundamental rights dignity of the oil communities.
As expected Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) a major operator in the oil and gas sector, quickly reacted that it would be impossible for it to stop gas flaring as ruled by the court, as it needed at least US$1.85 billion to achieve zero gas flare.
In a swift reaction to the ruling of the court to the immediate stoppage of gas flare, federal government warned that it was bad omens that will put a wedge on the wheels of government’s effort to achieving a zero gas flare soon. It claimed that it will rob the country its eligibility for credits from Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Project from foreign sources.
The then PICCDM chairman, Dr. Collins Gardner was reported to have seriously kicked against the judgment because “it was flawed in all dimensions”.
According to the report, the PICCDM was already sourcing for foreign funding for gas utilization projects for the country that would have quicken the achievement of zero gas flare, but the court ruling had come to put a wedge against the actualization of such projects.
Gardener was also reported to have said that there have been protests from International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects from Nigeria on gas flaring were not eligible for credits since a court decision has set the baseline at zero.
According to him, Nigeria will suffer if such judgment is to be executed, and as such the federal government has appealed against the Judgment.
Shell, a major operator in the sector has been complaining from day one, its inability to meet the deadline. And as expected, Shell was the first major operator to react to the ruling of the court, reiterating that it would not achieve zero gas flare till 2009. The set date has come and gone, yet gas flare continued till date.
It could be recalled the landmark judgment of another court which upheld the directive of the country’s upper legislative body that Shell should pay Ijaw aborigines of Bayelsa State the sum ofUS$1.5 billion as damages for environmental violence caused by oil exploration and drilling activities of the past 50 years in the area.
Though, Shell appealed against the ruling, the onus of moral burden on its activities in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria continues to hurt its psyche.
Looking back at 50 years of oil and gas exploration in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria all what the communities in the region have been doing, is counting their losses.
Oil and gas watchers, warned that should the federal government at this time allowed oil and gas operators have their way to an unending zero gas flare set date there might be an unexpected backlash from the youths of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in addition with the continued oil spill problems.
The year 2011 has come and gone, zero gas flare still remains a debate. The National Assembly debate is seen by the environment watchers as playing to gallery. Efforts made so far has been one step forward, two steps backward.


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 February 2012 22:31 )  

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