Shell to pay N1.4b for UNEP’s Ogoniland oil spills assessmentNigeria
FRESH facts emerged last week that the on-going United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) environmental assessment of the impacts of oil spills in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta would be funded by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria under the polluter pay principle.
The principle mandates the polluter to take adequate measures to remedy and cleanup sites. According to UNEP spokesman, Nick Nuttall, the funding of the assessment was negotiated over a period of one and a half years to ensure the independence and integrity of the assessment. In keeping with the polluter pays principle the government of Nigeria, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria and UNEP agreed that costs of $9.5 million would be borne by SPDC.
The UNEP study represents an unprecedented effort to examine the location, nature, extent and implications of oil contamination in Ogoniland. It is part of a longer-term goal to clean up contaminated sites for the benefit of local communities and people living in parts of the Niger Delta and for the region’s sustainable development.
But civil society movements are crying foul over some statements credited to the assessment study. Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) said that it was “outraged” by reports that a major United Nations investigation into Nigeria oil spills, funded by oil giant Shell, relied more on figures produced by oil companies and Nigerian state statistics than on community testimony and organisations on the ground who work with communities.
FoEI Chair and Director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, said: “We monitor spills regularly and our observations often contradict information produced by oil companies and Nigerian regulatory agencies. If the UNEP (UN Environment Programme) team would ask community monitors it would avoid falling into the trap of spinning Shell’s figures.
“The fieldwork by UNEP’s scientific teams collecting samples of water, soil, sediment, air and plant and animal tissue is due to be completed in October 2010 and will be followed by laboratory analysis. As this process of sample collection is still under way no draft or final report currently exists. Once finalised, the report will provide a compilation of all results and present options to the government and all interested parties on the most appropriate measures to clean up the area’s environment. It is due to be presented to the government of Nigeria and interested parties in early 2011,” Nuttal said.
Media reports over the past days and weeks have indicated that it was UNEP’s determination that 90 per cent of oil spills were linked with so-called ‘bunkering’ and criminal activity.
He said that in referring to this data, UNEP clearly indicated that these figures represented official estimates of the government of Nigeria, based in part on data supplied by the oil industry.
They, therefore, do not represent nor reflect results of UNEP’s current assessment process, which is still ongoing. To link this data with UNEP’s study or indeed any future attribution of responsibility is incorrect.
“UNEP would ask all parties within and outside Nigeria to recognise this fact and to respect the multi-disciplinary team carrying out this important task. UNEP wishes to assure all concerned that the assessment will be concluded to the highest standards of independence, integrity and transparency.
“UNEP has over several years secured the confidence of the international community in many challenging regions of the world from the Balkans and Afghanistan to Gaza and Sudan. The same professionalism and independence shown in these situations is being exercised in respect to UNEP’s work in Nigeria.
“Oil exploration and production in the oil-rich Niger Delta region began in the 1950s, but operations were suspended in the early 1990s due to local public unrest.
The oil fields and installations have since largely remained dormant. Further oil spills have resulted from a lack of maintenance, oil tapping and damage to oil infrastructure and facilities over the past 15 years. However, environmental contamination from these operations remains unremediated, or only partially remediated, today.”
To undertake the scientific assessment, UNEP is working with a range of stakeholders, including the United Nations Development Programme, the Rivers State Government, community organisations, local landholders, universities and laboratories.
The findings of UNEP’s assessment will be used to make recommendations to the government on appropriate levels of remediation needed to rehabilitate the land to a condition, which is acceptable according to international standards.
Geert Ritsema from Friends of the Earth Netherlands /Milieudefensie asked UNEP to base its findings mostly on independent sources rather than on information from the oil companies responsible for the massive oil pollution in Nigeria. Ritsema said that the UNEP team head, Mike Cowing, had “repeated Shell’s lies” that only 10 per cent of oil pollution in Ogoniland was caused by equipment failures and company negligence and 90 per cent by locals stealing oil.
“Yet he himself earlier stated that Shell’s large scale oil pollution and performance in Ogoniland was unacceptable’. These figures are not even consistent with some Shell official reports which admit that 45 per cent of all leakages from Shell facilities between 1998 and 2007 were due to poor maintenance of oil installations,” Ritsema said.
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