Jan 25, 2012

Ogoni: Roundtable To Tackle Oil Spills

Energy experts and officials met in Abuja to find solutions for the oil spills that have affected the Niger Delta.

Below is an  article published by Leadership:

Energy experts from around the world recently converged in Abuja to brainstorm and find lasting ways to tackle Nigeria’s oil spill challenge. Juliet Alohan, in this report examines the submissions of these experts and writes that the time for government to act is now.

Oil and gas experts who gathered at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, at the First Stakeholders’ Roundtable on the Niger Delta Environmental Protection and Regeneration with the  theme: “Ensuring Niger Delta Environmental Sustenance,” last November, focused on finding ways to end Nigeria’s oil spill and environmental degradation challenge.

The forum which was the first ever stakeholders’ roundtable on the subject matter attracted experts from around the world which included Bill Richardson, former governor of the United States  State of New Mexico, erstwhile US Energy Secretary, and ambassador, Howard Jeter, erstwhile US envoy to Nigeria.

Other notable attendees were the President of the Movement of the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, Chief Kingsley Kuku, National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi, as well as Dr. Gamaliel Onosode.

The forum sought to find ways of increasing environmental protection, ensuring energy security, promoting sustainable production and advancing human development in the region.

Panelists at the table included the Managing Director of Shell, Mutiu Sunmonu, former Director, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Osten Olorunsola , and Chairman, Afren Plc,Egbert Imomoh. In her presentation, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, noted that the case of the Niger Delta was quite peculiar because the region was home to about 98 per cent of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon wealth.

She said the nature of the exploration and production activities in the oil and gas industry worldwide was such that environmental pollution was almost like a second nature. “It is against this background that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on the Niger Delta which was released in September this year elicited widespread attention.

“The critical question the Niger Delta situation evokes is whether we should stop oil production altogether in order to stop the attendant degradation of the environment.

“While that proposition does not sound plausible, we all have a duty to ensure that the environmental pollution caused by exploration and production activities is reduced to the barest minimum in keeping with international best practices. Because the issues of environmental pollution directly affect the lives of the people who live in that region, the federal government is committed to dealing with it frontally, ”the minister argued.

Against the background, she said all oil companies in Nigeria have been directed to employ international best practices in their exploration and production activities to ensure that cases of spills were reduced to the barest minimum. The issue of deliberate pollution via pipeline vandalism, she said, was also being addressed with all the seriousness it deserved.

Apart from these official directives, she informed that clear structures were being put in place to ensure that all forms of pollution ranging from first tier to second and third tier pollution were decisively tackled to mitigate the level of environmental degradation in the region.

While the earlier directives are targeted at tackling first tier pollution which is usually at the level of individual operators, a group known as Clean Nigeria Associates(CNA) has been formed to pull resources together to tackle second tier pollution which goes beyond an individual company, the minister informed.

For third tier pollutions which are usually massive and cut across industries and government, she said the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency(NESREA) would  handle it.

In his presentation, Governor Bill Richardson warned that whatever happened in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region could have huge impact on the global oil market due to its significant contribution to world oil market.

Calling on the need to urgently implement the UNEP report on the region, he noted that the Niger Delta was significant to Nigeria’s economic wellbeing as it was responsible   for 20 per cent  of the country’s GDP and more than 80 per cent of its national budget.

“The challenges have been growing for more than five decades, it is time to face it squarely...amnesty programme is just the beginning. Implementing the UNEP roadmap will require political will from government, commitment from the company responsible for the spillage and change of attitude from host communities,” he said.

As a way forward, the energy expert suggested the establishment of a special Niger Delta clean-up fund and a high level clean-up committee to be made up of members from the ministries of petroleum, environment and other relevant agencies.

He also called for the review of the mandate of the NDDC to include oil spill clean-up and advocated the imposition of heavy fines on future spills in addition to the companies being made to take responsibility for the clean-up. He also advised the government to set up a special advisory council that would channel proposals and ideas to the high level clean-up committee.

Also in his presentation, Country Chairman of SPDC, Mutiu Sunmomu, said blame passing has been the reason why the issue has persisted, noting that in view of the fact that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC) has estimated that over 150,000 barrels of oil  were stolen every day in the Niger Delta which translated to the loss of millions of dollars that could have been used to finance developmental projects, the issue needed to be urgently addressed.

In view of recurrent oil spill in Nigeria, such as the Bonga spill which is now threatening various communities and causing unease in the Niger Delta, the time for the government to begin aggressive implementation of the proffered solutions is now in the interest of the socio-economic life of the people of the region and the nation in general.

According to the President of Niger Delta Coastal Communities(NDECC),Alaowei Biukeme, all the communities on the shoreline had been highly impacted by the spill even as he called on government to come to the rescue of the people. He said over 840 communities had been affected in Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom States since the spill occurred on December 20, 2011.