14 February 2012

Nigeria: Bonga Spill - Shell Explains Delay in Release of Forensic Report

The Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu has explained the delay in the release of the final report on the forensic examination of the samples of the 'third party' oil spill, which was reported 90 kilometres east of Bonga oil field.

Fielding questions from journalists in Warri after media over-fly of the contentious spill sites along the Niger-Delta coastline at the weekend, Sunmonu stated that scientific analysis and independent clarification on the samples from the 'mysterious oil' found on the Niger Delta coastline in Delta and Bayelsa states involved several stakeholders and recognised environment regulators that constituted the Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team to the area.

He said since a "consolidated approach" was being adopted in the matter, the final report would only be made public after the results from the various examination destinations across the globe, including Europe and America, have been received and appropriately harmonised.

The JIV comprised the Shell, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the National Oil Spill Detection and Regulatory Agency (NOSDRA), representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs), international regulators as well as the relevant ministries in Delta and Bayelsa States.

Sunmonu however expressed delight that the Shell clean-up initiative prompted by the Bonga Field spill last December "has reached its crucial stage", saying he was delighted that the efforts had been remarkably successful considering the encouraging feedback so far received from the communities along the shoreline.

The Shell boss stressed that his company embarked on the clean-up of the 'Third Party Spill', which he said was discovered about five days after the Bonga Field leak on 20 December, 2011, in line with its responsible policy.

"That policy entails ensuring safety of human lives and property vis-à-vis protection of the ecological resources in the company's area of operation and, in cases of emergency, clean-up of the environment concluded before worrying about the cause or apportioning blame," he said.

THISDAY gathered that some coastal communities particularly in Delta and Bayelsa states had demanded that Shell accepted responsibility for the oil spill that occurred along the coastal lines.

However, some communities in Bayelsa State are alleged to have refused to allow Shell or its assigned contractors any access to their communities.

The communities involved, and which fall within the Oloibiri, Ogbeintu and Agge clean-up areas have given five conditions before the clean-up of their area could be permitted.

The demands, it was learnt, include Shell's acceptance of responsibility for the said third party spill; the supply of relief materials by Shell; the provision of adequate compensation; and, the engagement of only people from the respective communities as contractors in the clean-up operation.

But Sunmonu however said it was erroneous for anybody to regard the decision and active move by Shell to clean-up the spill as an indication that the company has admitted responsibility for the spill.

"For us at Shell, safety is paramount; we put safety first in everything thing we do", Sunmonu pointed out. "Once the third party spill was discovered, Shell's immediate reaction was to activate our 24-hour Emergency Response Team - comprising our Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Warri offices - and commence the clean-up operation with the support of several relevant local and international groups and agencies; notwithstanding the fact that satellite images clearly showed the new oil was in water approximately 100 kilometres away from Bonga," he explained.

He noted that the clean-up of the entire leak from Bonga was practically completed through the aggressive local, national and international efforts duly mobilised before the discovery of the mysterious spill.

On gas flaring, Sunmonu said Shell has committed billions of dollars towards the acquisition of the necessary associated gas -gathering equipment, which is aimed at ensuring that the flaring of gas is scaled down and eventually stopped.

"The goal of putting an end to gas-flare, other than necessary operational flare, could not come earlier because as it was disrupted by acts of sabotage against Shell facilities allegedly carried out by militants.

The SPDC JV has already invested some $2 billion in associated gas gathering (AGG) facilities, which helped reduce flaring significantly between 2002 and 2010. Militant activity and funding issues brought many projects to a halt; but the SPDC JV is now investing more than $3 billion in completing these projects, repairing damaged equipment and building new AGG facilities," he added.

In a related development, the company has reported "remarkable success" in its efforts to divide the numerous coastline communities into 24 cells and appointed local contractors to clean-up the adjoining shoreline.

Corporate Media Relations Manager of Shell, Mr. Tony Okonedo, said most of the communities or cells have officially written to the company expressing their appreciation for the gesture in cleaning up their respective portions of the shoreline, which also involves the engagement of their own people.

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