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THE RISING COST OF OIL SPILLS
Oil spill does so much damage to the economy and the environment
The mangrove forest of Nigeria is the third largest in the world and the number one in Africa. Over 60 per cent of this forest is in the Niger Delta. The freshwater swamp forests of the region boast high biodiversity characteristic of extensive swamp and forest areas, with many unique species of plants and animals. Unfortunately, in this once pristine environment, oil spills have taken a deadly toll on fish, shellfish, and other marine life. Shrimp and oyster fisheries are also casualties.
Environmental rights activists have raised serious concerns over continuous degradation in the Niger Delta, with the total value of spilled oil within one year in this tender ecosystem estimated at N711 billion. Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor (NOSM), an arm of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) revealed that a total of 24,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled by 18 firms in 2021. Specifically, according to NOSM, there were about 383 publicly available oil spill records last year, and 33 of their sites were not visited by a Joint Investigation team. They added that 122 of these had no estimated quantity of oil spilled provided by NOSDRA. But based on reports available, 23,897.271 barrels of oil (3,775,768.864 litres) were spilled, which is about 119 oil tanker trucks full.
Oil theft is also contributing to the degradation of the environment. Between 2015 to March 2021, according to NOSDRA, Nigeria recorded 4,919 oil spills mostly as a result of oil theft which the federal government has admitted to be colossal. Several statistics have emphasised Nigeria as the most notorious country in the world for both oil theft and spills, losing roughly 400,000 barrels per day. It is followed by Mexico that has reported only 5,000 to 10,000 barrels only per day, thus a difference of about 3, 900 per cent. The consequences on the local people, the national economy and security are quite enormous.
The damage to the Niger Delta environment is huge, particularly with the tragic loss of lives and livelihoods, which would have been avoided if only the laws and regulations prescribed for safe exploration of oil were adhered to. But it is also important to understand and put in context the fragile nature of the region and how practically every drop of freshwater, fauna and flora, as well as the communities have been adversely impacted, without hope of reversal.
The oil companies are also to blame in all of this because of their aging pipelines and well heads that leak which are never replaced, in violation of the laws governing oil exploration in Nigeria. These regulations are that oil companies should “adopt all practicable precautions, including the provision of up-to-date equipment” to prevent pollution, and must take “prompt steps to control and, if possible, end it,” if pollution does occur. They must maintain all installations in good repair and condition in order to prevent “the escape or avoidable waste of petroleum” and to cause “as little damage as possible to the surface of the relevant area and to the trees, crops, buildings, structures and other properties thereon.”
There is already an emergency. People in these affected communities need immediate assistance to enable them cope in their polluted environment. Experts have described the spill as a major disaster that threatens ecologically sensitive wetlands, killing fish, shrimps, and other marine lives, as well as birds. But more disturbing is that of the livelihood of people in these communities that is threatened as their main stay, which is commercial fishing, will have to be put on hold for a long time. If adaptation strategies are not handled properly, the situation may cause avoidable displacement of people, and worse still, conflict.