Diezani Alison-Madueke, Petroleum Resources Minister
By Chika Amanze-Nwachuku and Onwuka Nzeshi
Irrespective of a damning United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report which says it would take 30 years and $1 billion to clean up the mess in Ogoniland, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) will soon restart production on the 30 Shell oil wells in the community.
A senior source at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) told THISDAY at the weekend that NPDC had not shelved its plan to commence production on the wells abandoned by Shell in the wake of the crisis that greeted the hanging of former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight of his kinsmen by the then military administration.
He said the re-entry plan was at an advanced stage and the NPDC would ensure that various stakeholders were carried along in whatever decision that would be reached at the end of the day.
The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs at the NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, also confirmed in a telephone chat Sunday that the re-entry plan was on course.
He said NPDC would begin production from the oil wells after the necessary arrangements had been put in pace.
“The re-entry plan is in progress. We have not shelved the idea because of the UNEP report. The NPDC will take over the operatorship of those oil blocks, but with a different philosophy. The philosophy will be that of unity, oneness and respect for the host community,” Ajuonuma said, adding that the corporation would have to appeal to the Ogoni people that producing oil in their community would improve their lot.
The Group Managing Director (GMD) of the corporation, Mr. Austen Oniwon, had in January disclosed that NPDC would soon commence oil production from the abandoned wells in line with NNPC’s mandate to produce 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day in 2015.
He said to achieve the set mandate, the NPDC had grown its asset base three-fold preparatory to becoming a big player in the upstream sector, while the enabling environment had been provided by the Federal Government.
The news of the planned re-entry had elicited reactions from the Ogoni people who vowed to resist any attempt by NPDC, Shell or any company for that matter to restart oil exploration in the area.
The Ogoni had also criticised the report that Shell and the NPDC, its appointed operator, were close to signing an agreement on the operatorship of the fields without the consent or approval of their people.
A prominent Ogoni leader, Mr. Ledum Mitee, had told THISDAY that the Federal Government was yet to contact the Ogoni people on NPDC’s plan to restart oil production in their area.
He said any company that would be allowed to explore oil in Ogoniland must be acceptable by the people of Ogoni, pointing out that government should first consult the Ogonis on whoever would take over the operatorship of those oil blocks.
"I have not been contacted about the plan by the NPDC to begin production, although the government was considering appointing it the new operator. Our position as always is that Shell must be replaced. So it is important that government first discusses whoever will be coming with us. I should expect government to contact us for discussion first and for us to know who is coming, what the company stands for and what they are bringing to the table. We don't want Shell or something like Shell or a company that will work for Shell,” Mitee said, adding: "The people of Ogoni should know who the company is, what the company stands for and what it is putting on the table, before being allowed to operate in their area.”
The Federal Government had on June 4, 2008, announced that oil fields abandoned by Shell in Ogoniland would be handed over to another operator.
Government reasoned that since there was a total loss of confidence between the Ogoni people and Shell, the best thing was to allow an operator acceptable to them (Ogonis) to take over exploration activities in the area.
The pronouncement had pitted Shell against the Federal Government, with the oil giant insisting that it would not hands off those blocks to any operator other than a Joint Venture partner. Shell had faulted government’s decision and resisted initial plans to hand over the control of the Nigerian oil fields to Chinese oil companies.
However, the appointment of NPDC as the new operator had received the commendation of Shell, which said it would continue to be a shareholder in the Ogoniland operations even though NPDC would become the operator.
UNEP recently indicted Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) in a report that showed that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the Niger Delta had caused serious environmental contamination and threat to human lives in Ogoniland, Rivers State.
The landmark report set out scientific evidence for the first time of devastating pollution in Ogoniland, part of the country's main oil-producing Niger Delta region, where Shell operated. It said the pollution might require the world's biggest ever clean-up, while detailing urgent health risks, especially badly contaminated drinking water. Shell faced criticism from UNEP, which said: “Control and maintenance of oil field infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate.”
The SPDC’s Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, however pledged that the oil giant would take "seriously" the UN study on unprecedented pollution, but reiterated that the company was not to blame for most of the spills.
"It's important for me to emphasise that we are taking the UNEP report very seriously," Mutiu Sunmonu told AFP in an interview after the report was released. "We are looking at it in greater detail. We are taking a comb through the report to see exactly what necessary follow-up actions will be required of SPDC."
The House of Representatives over the weekend said it would take very “keen interest” in the proposed clean-up lands as well as the restoration of all other communities affected by oil spills in the Niger Delta.
The lower chamber of the National Assembly said it would put in place effective oversight mechanisms to monitor the restoration of the devastated lands and waters and provide sustainable legislative solutions to guard against a reoccurrence of the phenomenon.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who disclosed this, stated that the 7th session of the House would intensify the current efforts to re-enlist the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and ensure the passage of the legislation as soon as possible.
He said the House would remain committed and unwavering in its determination to ensure that the principles of good governance, corporate social responsibility and international best practices were brought to bear in the oil and gas industry in the overall interest of oil-bearing communities and Nigeria at large.
“The passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill will be given expeditious attention when the House resumes from its recess, among other result-driven measures that would be taken to ensure that corporate actors and relevant government departments and agencies in the oil and gas industry do not shirk their responsibilities to reclaim and protect the environment in which they operate and as well as improve the lives and living conditions of the inhabitants,” he said.
Ihedioha described the submission of the UNEP report to the Federal Government as the first step in redressing the despoliation of affected communities in the oil rich Niger Delta.
He however warned against the current attempts by operators and stakeholders in the petroleum sector to pass the buck rather than taking responsibility for their actions and inactions that resulted in the devastation of the environment.
Ihedioha said all those involved must take full responsibility for the consequences of oil exploration and production activities as it is the case in developed countries where some of them also operate.
He recalled the rapid global response which greeted the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, United States of America last year and expressed hope that the Federal Government would waste no time in driving an implementation process that would address the grave environmental issues raised in the UNEP report on Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta.