This Day (Lagos)

5 August 2014

Nigeria: Govt, Shell Not Cleaning Oil Pollution

Photo: Elaine Gilligan/Friends of the Earth
Shell oil spill

Amnesty International and other groups in the Niger Delta yesterday disclosed that little action had been taken by the federal government and oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), to clean up pollution caused by oil production in the region.

A new report by Amnesty International, Friends of The Earth Europe, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action, and Platform, said oil production has contaminated the drinking water of at least 10 communities in Ogoniland area, adding that neither the federal government nor Shell has taken effective measures to restore the fouled environment.

According to the Associated Press (AP), a detailed assessment of the pollution in the oil-producing area was published in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which said it will probably take up to 30 years to fully clean the area.

"In the three years since UNEP's study was published, the federal government and Shell have taken almost no meaningful action to implement its recommendations," said the joint report.

"The failure to fully implement any of the non-emergency measures after three years has resulted in a loss of confidence among many stakeholders. Even the emergency measures have only been partially implemented," the groups said.

Among those emergency measures, water supplies were brought to communities affected by the pollution. But the communities said these supplies are "erratic," often insufficient and the water sometimes "smelled bad and was unpleasant to drink," said the groups' report.

In its earlier study, UNEP gave several examples of contaminated water and land, including at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland.

"Families are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene - a known carcinogen - at levels over 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines," said UNEP.

In July 2012 the government created the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to implement the UN recommendations. But as at July this year, "none of the NGOs monitoring UNEP implementation was aware of any action by HYPREP to meet this commitment," the groups said. Oil production stopped in Ogoniland in 1993, but some of the equipment wasn't fully decommissioned, leaving it open to sabotage and corrosion, the UN report found.

In January 2013 Shell requested approval from the government to decommission its assets in Ogoniland, and was granted an approval more, than a year later, in February 2014, according to the report. "Shell's description of what has been achieved amounts to almost no action whatever," the groups said.

"The people of Ogoniland continue to suffer the effects of fifty years of an oil industry which has polluted their land, air and water," the groups said. "Only some of the emergency measures have been implemented - and then only partially."

The groups accused Shell of putting the blame on oil theft, rather than taking responsibility and acting on the findings of the UN report.

Nigeria, a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC), is Africa's largest oil producer and most populous nation. But several communities in the oil-producing Niger Delta said their areas are still underdeveloped, and their region had been polluted by oil spills, ruining their drinking water and their sources of livelihood including farming and fishing.

Oil companies said gangs that break into pipelines to steal crude oil are the main causes of oil spills in the region.

Shell, the largest oil company operating in Nigeria, is now facing a lawsuit in the United Kingdom where the law firm Leigh Day, representing fishermen in the Niger Delta, is arguing the company isn't doing enough to maintain and protect its pipelines from being sabotaged by oil thieves. But Shell insists it's following international best practice in its operations in the West African country. While the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has not reacted to the issue, Shell has stated that no stakeholder is in a position to implement the UNEP report on the clean-up of Ogoniland unilaterally.

The Corporate Media Relations Manager of Shell, Mr. Precious Okolobo, said in a statement that neither SPDC nor any other stakeholder is in a position to implement the entirety of UNEP's recommendations unilaterally.

Okolobo said three years on from the UNEP report's publication, the SPDC, operator of a joint venture between the NNPC, SPDC, Total and Nigerian Agip Oil Company, had made progress in addressing all the recommendations directed, to it in that publication.

"The majority of UNEP's recommendations require multi-stakeholder efforts coordinated by the federal government. However, it is important to emphasise that neither SPDC nor any other stakeholder is in a position to implement the entirety of UNEP's recommendations unilaterally," Okolobo said.

To buttress his claims, the Shell Nigeria spokesman also cited a section of the report where it said: "Treating the problem of environmental contamination within Ogoniland merely as a technical clean-up exercise would ultimately lead to failure".

"Ensuring long-term sustainability is a much bigger challenge - one that will require coordinated and collaborative action from all stakeholders," said UNEP report.

Okolobo further stated that SPDC had an activity programme in place, focused on delivering improvements in the environmental and community health situation on the ground.

"We continue to work with the government, communities and a number of constructive Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and civil society groups in the Niger Delta to accelerate progress," he added. Following the report of the UNEP on the degradation of Ogoniland by oil companies, the federal government plans to clean-up the devastated areas through the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) domiciled in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

The ministry had launched the execution of eight emergency measures with material and logistic support from the Bayelsa State Government, some local governments and communities in Rivers State, and a number of corporate organisations.

The restoration steps already taken included mounting of advocacy signage, provision of drinking water tanks across Ogoniland, development of a medical registry, sourcing of water testing and air pollution facilities and conclusion of clean up work plan and formation of work groups.

With Agency Report

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