Vanguard (Lagos)

8 August 2010

Nigeria: Pollution in Niger Delta - Oil Firm, Fish Farmers Fight

UP TILL yesterday, it was still accusation and counter-accusation between Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) and the United Ufuoma Fish Farmers Association, Ekpan in Uvwie local government area of Delta State over the July 22 pollution of the largest fish farm in the Niger-Delta with about 6,000 fish ponds.

With the massive death of fish and contamination, the damage to the fishing settlement, where over 2,000 families from different parts of the country eke out a living, is undoubtedly, unquantifiable. On Wednesday, August 4, when Sunday Vanguard visited the fish farm, dead fish were still being scooped out while the farmers, in a bid to minimize their losses, were evacuating toxic water from the affected ponds with pumping machines to relocate surviving fish to fresh ponds.

Some of the fish ponds in the farm had already been cordoned off to prevent further spread of polluted water into other ponds, but the deadly water still was still seeping through openings on the walls of the ponds.

A field joint investigation report (FJIR) on the incident, issued by the Department of Petroleum Resources, July 23, a day after the incident, also absolved the oil company, as it confirmed there was no impact on bordering community, creeks and fish ponds.

The report was jointly signed by Anyanwu J.C. of DPR, Chevron's Orivoh Victor, Iluwa Kutu, Ikutegbe David and Nesiama O.O, while Enaefewan Friday and Ofudje Alexander curiously signed for Ekpan community and Aruakpor-Umah community.

A senior Chevron official, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Warri, stated, "Chevron is not denying that there was a leakage from a sunken tug boat, belonging to one of its contractors, but it's not the eight liters of diesel that caused the pollution the fish farmers are alleging.

If there is any pollution in their fish farm, it is certainly not from our company because the minor leakage of diesel from the aforementioned tug boat occurred within our waterfront". He said the company carried out a flyover with a chopper and went a boat ride around the area to find out if there was any impact and the result was negative, adding, "Chevron, as a responsible company, carried out clean-up in the affected area and if, as you said, dead fish were picked from the fish ponds, whatever caused it is not Chevron, the people should look elsewhere".

Government intervention

The farmers sent a 'Save Our Soul' letter to the governor, who mandated his commissioner for environment Delta to handle the matter with the seriousness it deserved. The commissioner, Orubebe, visited the Ufuoma fish farm on July 26 and ordered the samples of the dead fish, water and soil to be taken for tests. He visited Chevron in Warri, same day, but was not granted access because of "communication gap". But, on Tuesday, August 3, he met with the officials of the company, led by Mr. Tim Ainodion, in Asaba, who maintained that it was a minor case of leakage of eight liters of diesel from a sunken tug boat, belonging to one of its contractors.

The commissioner disagreed with the company's officials on the inconsequential manner they took the matter, saying it was a serious affair. His words, "It can spill into a security issue, which can affect and threaten the amnesty and peace, which Governor Uduaghan, his colleagues and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, have laboured to achieve".

Uduaghan was said to have since ordered the commissioner to relocate to Warri to frontally address the matter. Also, the office of the special adviser on oil and gas, executive assistant to the governor on micro credit, Delta State Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant departments had been redeployed to Warri.

After the meeting in Asaba, on Tuesday, the commissioner had a follow-up meeting with Chevron officials in Warri on Wednesday, but, it was not clear what the outcome of the meeting was.

Allegation against us is untrue--Chevron

However, Chevron, in a statement by its General Manager, Policy, Government and Public Affairs, Engineer Femi Odumabo, dismissed allegation of involvement of the company in any fish pond pollution.

The statement: "Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), operator of the NNPC/Chevron Joint Venture has described as untrue the allegation that an oil spill from its Warri dock polluted fish ponds at Ugborokoko area and clusters 1 to 4 in Ekpan, Delta State.

"Expressing surprise at the allegation, Engr. Femi Odumabo, General Manager Policy, Government and Public Affairs, explains that there was a leakage of diesel and lubrication oil estimated at about eight (8) liters (two gallons) from a contractor's tug boat; which sank at Chevron Dock Waterfront in Warri, on Thursday July 22, 2010.

According to him, a Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) was carried out with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Delta State Ministry of Environment. the oil was contained within Chevron facility and cleaned up immediately. It was therefore not possible for the eight litres of oil spill which has been cleaned up to impact fish ponds about ten mils from Chevron yard.

"Says Odumabo: "We carried out a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) with DPR, NOSDRA and Delta State Ministry of Environment officials and Representatives of the Community within the immediate vicinity. The findings of the JIV were documented on forms provided by the Government agencies and signed off by all parties. The outcome reports that the volume was eight (8) liters with little or no impact. Moreover the spill was confined to our property and cleaned up immediately. In addition, pictures of the event and helicopter surveillance records were taken within hours of the event which also support these findings."

"Engr. Odumabo, however, expresses the company's willingness to work with the Government Regulatory bodies in determining the source of the spill polluting the fish pond. In his words: "The spill which is being claimed to have killed thousands of fishes could not have been the two gallons spill from Chevron Yard".

"He reiterates the company's aversion to environmental pollution and speaks about the company's preparedness to combat spills while also complying with the laws of the land: "Chevron's response to spills is excellent and clean up is done with a lot of responsibility.

We seek to understand and fully comply with business regulations in the communities in which we operate and work within existing legal framework. We will continue to work with the Nigerian government towards the development of the Oil and Gas industry and the Nigerian economy generally. Chevron reaffirms its commitment to the protection of people and the environment in all its operations".

Technical Committee

Efforts by Sunday Vanguard to reach the Delta environment commissioner for comments did not yield result and sources said he was in a fix over how to resolve the matter.

On Wednesday, a government official said a technical committee was likely to be set up to address the matter. An official of Chevron also hinted that the company had suggested that finger-pointing be done to ascertain the truth of the matter.

Farmers to contact House of Assembly

While waiting for Orubebe to make Chevron to do the right thing, the president of the fish farmers association, said the group would send a petition to the Delta State House of Assembly, this week, for the lawmakers to invite the oil company to explain why it was playing hanky panky with the investments of Deltans.

The sunken tug boat at the Chevron yard, Warri whose content allegedly spilled over to the farms

Business dwindles

Since the pollution saga, the fish farm, which used to be a beehive of activities with traders from Lagos, Ibadan , Bayelsa and other parts of the country, is a shadow of itself. Some traders were said to be carrying away contaminated fishes from the farm despite the warning by the Delta environment commissioner and the fear is if it would not lead to a health problem in the state.

Chevron caused pollution -- Ughere

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the United Ufuoma Fish Farmers Association, Chief Joshua Ughere, told Sunday Vanguard that at about 4.00 pm on July 22, he and other farmers observed a layers of oily substance on the Ekpan River, which is the source of water supply to their fish ponds, and immediately went round to locate and prevent more from gaining access into their fish ponds.

He said that 25 liters of the strange liquid later discovered to be diesel was scooped from a point in the fish farm and that it took up to four hours for the tide to subside and, the next day, the fish farmers traced the source of the pollution to Chevron yard, where the pollutant was seen coming out from a sunken tug boat.

Ughere said the association sent a letter of complaint to Chevron; ministry of environment, Delta State; NOSDRA; chairman of Uvwie local government area, Uvwie monarch, as well as a Save Our Soul (SOS) to the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, adding that three days after the incident, the state commissioner for environment, Dr. Bello Orubebe, visited the fish farm, which has been in operation for the past 10 years.

"The effect of the spillage was felt instantly because two days after, we started recording massive death of fish. You can see diesel still on the water, our fish ponds have all been contaminated, the fish are dying daily, you can see the surviving ones gasping for breath, we are losing about N2.4 million a day from the sale of fish at the moment", he added.

Govt. should call Chevron to order - Onotujama

Another fish farmer, Pastor Gabriel Onotujama, who was met pumping water from one of the affected fish ponds, said, "I am transferring the water to reduce the effect. You can see that the water inside is polluted, the fish will continue to die as long as they live and drink it, so I have to remove it and go for fresh water. Many of my fish are dead, I cannot quantify my loss. Because of the impact of the pollution, one of my ponds (pointing at it) has collapsed".

Onotujama called on the state government to put necessary machinery in motion to stop the hazard and call Chevron to order.

We want immediate compensation-- Ekwale

President of the association, Rufus Emedone Ekwale, said it was surprising that Chevron was denying responsibility for the damage caused to the fish farmers when it was obvious that it was the leakage of diesel from its facility that contaminated the fish ponds.

He said no remediation had been carried out by the oil company to ameliorate the damage done to the fish ponds, pointing out the farmers were waiting to see whether the multinational would be allowed by government to get away with this brazen display of insensitivity.

Ekwale said a number of investors in the farm took loans from banks to do the business and it would be bad if government failed to offer them protection. According to him, what the farmers require at the moment is immediate remediation of the environment, relief and compensation plans by Chevron.

He said his target was to earn N10 million annually from his fishing business and the pollution that had just happened would constitute a set back to his ambition.

*A farm attendant catching fish from an affected fish pond

Sad for Chevron to treat us this way - Okwechime

Pastor Chris Okwechime, who described the incident as a disaster, said, "Many people who are doing this business are either retired workers or people who borrowed money from banks to pursue a means of livelihood. This pollution has caused us a great set back. You see, a little thing can spark off violence in this region, about 4,000 to 5,000 depend on this place for their daily survival and Chevron is telling us they know nothing about the damage they caused us. Is the spillage not from the tug boat in their premises, what are they saying".

He said it was sad that the company, which caused such a monumental damage to the fish farmers had not deemed it fit to carry out any remediation work in the farm because it did not want to claim responsibility, adding that it was the farmers, on their own, that have been hiring pumping machines individually at high costs to pump out the contaminated water and purchase drugs for treatment.

Okwechime lamented that there is no other source of water to the fish farm except the Ekpan River with tributaries to Ugboroke, Agadaga, New Layout and DDPA (Ugborikoko). It was gathered that besides the Ufuoma fish farm, fish ponds in these areas were also polluted.

I'm disgusted - Ihesinaulo

On his part, John Ihesinaulo bemoaned, "I have put a lot of money, all my life-savings into this business and I am disgusted with the present development. Chevron has caused me and others a big loss and it is lying barefacedly that it knows nothing about the pollution. This is the most annoying thing to me. Immediately it happened, I blocked the water inlets to my fish ponds but that did not prevent the pollutant from entering and killing my fish. So far, I have transferred to other ponds and have been putting calcium, carbonate and fish cure in my pond, but that is not a guarantee, fish need clean, not contaminated water".

Bring experts to treat polluted water - Mrs. Omare

Mrs. Jennifer Frank Omare, who owns about 19 fish ponds in the farm, called on government and relevant agencies as well as the multinational company to bring in experts to treat the polluted water to enable them go back to business.

Omare, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard in her farm office in Ekpan, noted that though the spill had caused a monumental loss to them (farmers), what was paramount now was for experts to be brought in to treat the water for them to continue their business with the left over.

The fish farmer said if immediate remediation plans were not put in place, they (farmers) could be thrown out of business and their employees back into the labour market.

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