By Kunle Akogun in Abuja and Onwuka Nzeshi
The Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology has said it has not given Shell Petroleum Development Company a clean bill of health over the containment of the recent Bonga oil spill.
The clarifications by the Senate committee however came on a day the House of Representatives also expressed dismay at the occurrence of a major oil spill on the Bonga Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel, a deep offshore oil facility of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO).
Chairman of the committee, Senator Bukola Saraki, said in a statement in Abuja yesterday that what he said after he led other members of the committee on an assessment visit to the spill site was that the spill had stopped and the containment successful to an extent.
The statement signed by Saraki's media aide, Akintoba Fatigun, also denied insinuations in a section of the media that the committee has compromised over the oil spill issue, saying, "the media should remember that it was our committee that first responded to Bonga oil spill in a press conference held at the National Assembly in Abuja and we also went ahead to assure all Nigerians that we will do everything possible to make sure Shell contains the spill as quick as possible and to also hold the oil company to internationally accepted practices in protecting our environment".
Saraki added that his committee had also made contact with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for technical assistance, adding that "surely this is not the action of a committee that does not want to do anything or is satisfied with the present status; if we have compromised are we going to take such step?”
He disclosed that the committee also raised the issue of the oil found at the shoreline, which Shell claimed is not from its well, saying however that “until tests are carried out to ascertain the owner of the oil, it will be premature to conclude, but we have insisted on a joint sample taking by Shell, DPR, NOSDRA and a Consultant appointed by Senate to be sent to a reputable international laboratory for testing, until the results are out we can't conclude.”
Saraki explained that in the meantime the committee had agreed with Shell that irrespective of whose oil it is, "Shell will take responsibility of the cleaning for the oil at the shoreline which is what is most important.
“Also, we are evaluating the cleaning procedure to see the effects on ecosystem from the use of the dispersants”, he said, pointing out that Shell is investigating the cause of the spill to confirm the reliability of the export line.”
He said the issue of compensation to affected communities can only be addressed after the source of oil is established.
Pleading with Nigerians to be patient, Saraki promised that his committee would see that international standards are met and that there will be no cover up.
“We also assured Nigerians that if established that the cause of the oil spill is due to negligence then surely we will ensure that Shell pays appropriate penalties", he said, pointing out however that "until all investigations are concluded we can't do anything.”
Meanwhile, the lower chamber of the National Assembly threatened that it might be forced to apply stiff sanctions on the oil multinational if it failed to manage the spill according to international best practices.
Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon. Uche Ekwunife, who reacted to the incident yesterday, said the committee was particularly disturbed by the release of an estimated 40,000 barrels of crude oil into the marine environment and the prospects of the oil reaching the shoreline if not properly managed.