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Niger Delta: containing oil spills

Independent Daily

Home to some 20 million people and 40 different ethnic groups, the Nigerian Niger Delta region is believed to be the largest wetland and maintains the third-largest drainage basin in Africa. The floodplain, which makes up 7.5 percent of the country’s total land mass, reportedly contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet.

But its land and sea are being slowly poisoned by oil spills that occur during petroleum operations, which began several decades ago. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) estimates 1.89 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996 out of a total of 2.4 million barrels spilled in 4,835 incidents. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) places the quantity of oil jettisoned into the environment yearly at 2,300 cubic metres with an average of 300 individual spills annually. The World Bank argues, however, that the true quantity of oil spilled into the environment could be as much as 10 times the officially claimed amount. A top 10 oil exporter with proven reserves of 36 billion barrels, Nigeria also ranks among the world’s worst in petroleum safety. Last year, the nation reportedly had more than 2,000 active spills. Indeed, the region has been tagged the most polluted ecosystem on earth.

Recent spill incidents – the BP incident by the United States coastline following an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the one that occurred last month in the Dalian Province of China, and the Exxon Mobil Nigeria offshore spill that leaked 8,400 gallons of crude oil into the sea – have once again brought the disturbing phenomenon to the fore. As a global player in the sector, Nigeria seems to have taken up the remedial campaign and, going by a ministerial interaction last week in Abuja, government appears to have resolved to nip the embarrassment in the bud.

At a daylong forum involving Environment Minister, John Odey, and oil firms’ chief executives, government sought to take stock of the oil companies’ Oil Spill Contingency Plan as well as being up-dated on their current actions. Odey said that although oil spillages are traditionally associated with causes such as equipment failure and human error, illegal oil bunkering and the theft of petroleum products have escalated the volume of oil spillages.

He said, “By available record, the number of oil spill reports between year 2006 and mid 2010, is approximately 3000. In the light of these recent events, where we have recorded oil spills in different locations, it is imperative that you adequately review your process and in collaboration with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), scale up your education awareness and information mechanism to the public. The co-operative venture of the IOCs within the Tier 2 oil spill response system must also henceforth be strengthened.” According to him, the Federal Government of Nigeria in December 2009 inaugurated the Presidential Committee on Remediation of Oil Impacted Sites in the country, adding that all the oil operating companies are members of the strategic committee.

“I believe you must have been receiving briefs from your representatives. One of the terms of reference of the committee is to source for funds and assistance at national and international level to remediate all the oil impacted sites in the country. You may be aware that in the wake of the United State crisis, some countries offered assistance in dealing with the oil spill. We should explore similar opportunities. We need to take advantage of appropriate global resources and technology to achieve our task in a cooperative manner.

Furthermore, host communities would henceforth be held responsible for wanton vandalism of oil facilities within their domain. These measures, no doubt would ensure that the clean-up of the degraded environment in the country would not be an exercise in futility.”

He disclosed that government last April presented to stakeholders an Environmental Sensitivity Index Mapping (ESIM) covering 50 kilometres inward from Badagry to Calabar.

Odey adds that the map, which captured all available sensitive ecosystem, is essential for the preservation and protection of our fragile ecosystem from the impact of oil spillage.

“The oil companies operating in Nigeria are to take advantage of the ESIM to guide their operations. This project, which was carried out by the Federal government, is ready for launch to the public and we should suggest dates for Mr. President to do the formal public presentation,” the minister emphasised, adding:

“The oil industry has brought about tremendous economic and social transformation to our country in the last five decades. The positive socio-economic impacts have also been accompanied by some negative consequences resulting in severe environmental degradation and the dislocation of the social livelihoods of the oil bearing communities in Nigeria. The Federal Government and the Nigerian people will be glad to know you also share their concern about our environment.”

But the questions over the vulnerability of the oil firms’ operations and the environment to large scale oil spills remain.

The largest individual spills include the blowout of a Texaco offshore station which in 1980 dumped an estimated 400,000 barrels (64,000 m3) of crude oil into the Gulf of Guinea and Shell’s Forcados Terminal tank failure which produced a spillage estimated at 580,000 barrels (92,000 m3).

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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