Curbing Sabotage-related Oil Spills in N’Delta

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With the increasing concerns raised by Amnesty International in its reports on the devastating effects of oil spills in Niger Delta, Ejiofor Alike suggests that the oil-producing communities should support the initiatives undertaken by Shell to prevent and minimise spills caused by theft and sabotage

The issue of oil spills in the Niger Delta has been a major concern to the oil communities, operating companies, various tiers of government and international stakeholders.
The environmental pollution of the region came to unprecedented international limelight when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conducted a study in the case of Ogoniland in 2011 and recommended the setting up of $1 billion fund to clean-up oil pollution and ensure the environmental remediation of the area.

In line with his promise to implement the UNEP report, President Muhammadu’s administration has properly funded both the governing council and Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), the two key elements of the governance structure required for the clean-up, according to the Chairman of the BoT of the HYPREP, Mr. Wale Edun, who had confirmed this in a programme anchored by the Editor and Executive Director of THISDAY Newspapers, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, in Arise Television, a sister arm of THISDAY.

As stakeholders are gearing up to implement the UNEP report, Amnesty International recently raised the alarm on the devastating effects of oil spills in the Niger Delta.
In the latest report, the rights group accused Shell and Eni of serious negligence, citing what it described as its groundbreaking research project, which allegedly showed that the serious negligence by the two oil giants was exacerbating an environmental crisis in the region.
According to the report, Amnesty International said it found that Shell and Eni were taking weeks to respond to reports of spills and publishing misleading information about the cause and severity of spills, which may result in communities not receiving compensation.

“Shell and Eni claim they are doing everything they can to prevent oil spills but Decoders’ research suggests otherwise. They found that the companies often ignore reports of oil spills for months on end – on one occasion Eni took more than a year to respond. The Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on earth and it beggars belief that the companies responsible are still displaying this level of negligence,” said Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International, Mark Dummett,
Amnesty International urged the federal government to re-open investigations into 89 oil spills.

The rights group said it collected information about the contents of the reports that Shell and Eni published each time they visited the site of an oil spill.
According to AI, these reports detailed the likely cause, location and extent of the damage, and were often accompanied by photographs.
According to AI, these reports were important because companies pay compensation to affected communities based on this information.
Amnesty International further alleged that the previous reports it conducted had revealed that the information in these reports was often inaccurate.

Major causes of spills
One of the allegations by Amnesty International was that Shell and Eni were taking weeks to respond to reports of spills.
The group also alleged that Shell and Eni claimed that they were doing everything they could to prevent oil spills but the research it conducted suggested otherwise.
However, it would require further research work to find out if Shell, Eni and any oil and gas-producing company, with their profit motives would deliberately allow their facilities to spill and waste hydrocarbon.

It is a common knowledge that majority of the spills suffered by the oil and gas producing companies in the Niger Delta are caused by crude oil thieves, who have the technology to tamper with the pipelines and scoop oil but lack the technical know-how to fix the lines to prevent oil spillage.
There is no doubt that equipment failure accounts for rare cases as no company will deliberately inflict such huge losses on itself by deploying the wrong or obsolete equipment.
The rights group also alleged that the oil giants under-estimate the spills to reduce the amount of compensation.

It is, however, on records that Shell, for instance, has publicly reported oil spill statistics yearly since 1995 in the Shell Sustainability Report and has also created a website to further enhance transparency on spills in Nigeria from SPDC-Joint venture facilities.
SPDC is the only oil and gas company in Nigeria to publish data on all spills in its areas of operation online. The oil spills website went live in 2011.

The federal, state and local governments, as well as the regulators – Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) are in a position to access and analyse these reports and sanction the company if there is any infraction.
If the Amnesty International’s researchers are better equipped technically to address the issue of oil spills in Niger Delta than the DPR and NOSDRA, the implication is that Nigeria’s oil and gas industry has collapsed and the federal government should declare emergency in the industry,

Shell’s initiatives
A spokesperson for SPDC, Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan has responded to Amnesty International’s latest report.
Odugbesan dismissed the allegations as false, and without merit, adding that Amnesty’s report failed to recognise the complex environment in which the company operates where security, a sole prerogative of the government,” remains a major concern with persisting incidents of criminality, kidnapping, vandalism, threats from self-described militant groups”.

“As operator of a joint venture, where the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has a majority interest, SPDC continues to work with federal and state government agencies, communities and civil society to create a safe operating environment. SPDC, in collaboration with government regulators, responds to spill incidents as quickly as it can and cleans up spills from its facilities regardless of the cause. We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.

However, response to spills, clean-up and remediation depend on access to the spill site and ultimately on the security of personnel and equipment while work is ongoing. SPDC reiterates its commitment to carrying out operations in line with best practice in a responsible and environment-friendly manner,” he added.
With the high rate of criminality, kidnapping, vandalism, and other security threats, which have made every company to provide its own security in the Niger Delta, Nigeria has become a high-risk environment in the global oil industry.
There is no doubt that oil spills due to crude oil theft and sabotage of facilities, as well as illegal refining cause the most environmental damage from oil and gas operations in the Niger Delta.

Shell has insisted that “Irrespective of cause, the SPDC JV cleans up and remediates areas affected by spills originating from its facilities”.

“A key priority for Shell is to achieve the goal of no spills from its operations. No spill is acceptable and we work hard to prevent them,” the company said.
“When a leak is identified, production is suspended and efforts made to contain any spilled oil. We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident. In line with government regulations, a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team visits the spill site to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled. The team is led by the SPDC staff and includes representatives of the regulatory bodies, police, the state government and impacted communities.

The SPDC JV cleans and remediates the area impacted by spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause. In the case of operational spills, it also pays compensation to people and communities impacted by the spill. Once clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected, and once satisfactory, approved and certified by Federal Government of Nigeria regulators – the Department of Petroleum Resources and National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency,” the company explained.

Since 2016, Shell has sustained on-ground surveillance efforts on its areas of operations, including its pipeline network, to mitigate incidences of third-party interference and ensure that spills are detected and responded to as quickly as possible.
There are also daily over-flights of the pipeline network areas to identify any new spill incidents or activities.

The company has also installed state-of-the-art high definition camera to a specialised helicopter that greatly improves the surveillance of our assets and have implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms on key infrastructure.
SPDC’s remediation practices are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN), Revised Edition 2002 as well as other relevant international standards.

Since 2012, Shell has also worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to enhance remediation techniques and protect biodiversity at sites affected by oil spills in SPDC’s areas of operation in the Niger Delta.
Based on this partnership, SPDC has launched remediation improvement initiatives to help strengthen its remediation and rehabilitation efforts.

A major challenge facing Shell and other oil companies is that they are denied access to impacted sites by the communities and the various criminal groups who want to benefit from the spills.
Aware that the more the severity of the spills, the bigger the compensation, communities are known to have denied the companies access to impacted sites to ensure maximum damage to the environment.
To address this issue of oil spills, the federal government, oil communities, Amnesty International and all the stakeholders should collaborate with the companies, instead of this periodic bulk-passing.