TICKER: How oil spills have damaged the Niger Delta

They were still recovering from the damaging effects of one, when another struck. It has been a string of woes for the coastal communities.

For the people of Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State and many communities in the Niger Delta, oil spills are the beginning of wisdom.

Residents of Ibeno are the latest victims of this trend, which oil giants blame on sabotage. The spillage, say experts, is bound to increase the unemployment figure, which the National Bureau of Statistics says is over 50 per cent of youths.

This oil spill at an ExxonMobil facility in Ibeno has spread at least 20 miles from its source. It has coated seas used by fishermen with poisonous substances.

The oil giant, in a statement, admitted its facility caused the spill, which it put at some 200 barrels of crude oil.

A rainbow-tinted oil slick stretching for 32 kilometres from a pipeline that Exxon had shut down because of a leak a week ago is visible.

Edet Asuquo, 40, a fisherman in the Mkpanak community, told Reuters: “This is the worst spill in this community since Exxon started its operations in the area.

“The fishermen cannot fish any longer and have no alternative means of survival.”

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), which visited Ibeno, following reports of an oil spill from the Qua Iboe Oil Fields operated by Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), said urgent step must be taken to avert danger.

ERA said: “ Two major oil spills were said to have also occurred within the Qua Iboe Oil field on 13 and 24 August 2012 respectively. The present spill occurred on 9 November 2012. It has been a string of woes for the coastal communities.

“Though MPN, an affiliate of ExxonMobil had in a statement admitted its facility caused the spill which it put at some 200 barrels of crude oil, community members told ERA/FoEN field monitor that the latest incident is one among several spills that they said, was injurious to aquatic life which they depend on for their livelihood.

“During the visit, members of the community were seen in groups at the coastline bemoaning what had befallen them and its effect on their fishing vocation.

“ERA/FoEN monitor observed massive crude oil deposits on the shoreline as well as fishing boats and nets stained with crude oil deposits.”

Chief John Etim, a community leader explained to ERA/FoEN field monitor that more than 7,000 peasant fishermen have been forced to abruptly suspend fishing due to the oil spill that extensively contaminated their waters.

Etim said: “Frequent spills have impoverished our fishing population. Oil spills have been a major obstacle to we fishermen and it is worsened by the insensitivity of Mobil in the past. Mobil must be reasonable and compensate every one that was impacted.”

For Chief Ibanga Etang, who is the Chairman of Esit Eket Local Government Area: “The impact of this oil spill on the predominantly fishing communities in Southern Akwa Ibom is difficult to quantify. In addition to contamination of the waters which cause fish drought, the several spills have distorted the marine food chain. Whenever a spill occurs fishermen are thrown out of business because when the waters become toxic, fish migrate away from their reach. The recurring spills put to question the claims by Mobil management that they have replaced their aged pipeline network.”

A fish seller, Mrs. Uduak Eyo-Sunday, added: “Women engaged in fish processing have also been adversely affected by the oil spill. Whenever there is oil spill, the fishermen do not bring fish back from the waters and when we cannot buy fresh fish we have nothing to dry and sell. Because of this incident, we have found it difficult to feed our children and the situation may continue for a long time. This is why we need relief materials and some form of compensation for the damage to our source of livelihood.”

Mr. Ayanga Jonathan-Esibe, fisherman in Esit Eket, observed that “I lost my fishing gear to the spill incident because the nets stained by crude cannot be re-used. Even when you wash the nets, the fish will avoid them and you end up without any catch. The nets are now condemned and there is no money to buy new ones. The oil gushed from the ruptured pipeline with enormous pressure into the ocean for several days before it was discovered and subsequently stopped. From my assessment, the 200 barrels admitted by Mobil management is a mere cover up. From the spread of oil on the coastline you can see that the 200 barrels they are claiming is a ploy to evade compensation because if it is 200 barrels you will not find it on the shoreline.”

To remedy the situation, ERA wants Mobil to immediately cleanup of the polluted waters, shoreline and environment in Ibeno; replace all its aging and leaking pipelines; take responsibility for past and current spills in the community; and carry out comprehensive audit of the environment in Ibeno as a result of the incessant spills.

It urges NOSDRA to penalise Mobil for this and other spills in order to halt this impunity and punish bad behaviour.

It calls for the payment of compensation to the impacted community folks, including fisherfolks whose livelihoods have been ruined.

The Mobil’s outage comes on top of multiple production problems in the country, which is Africa’s biggest crude exporter, after fellow oil majors Shell and Eni reported recent disruptions at onshore sites due to oil theft and the country’s worst flooding in 50 years.

A fisherman described noticing a large quantity of oil on the surface of the seas and all over the beach the Friday before last, adding that the company has since sprayed chemicals in the water, which was helping disperse it.

It was the second major oil spill near Exxon facilities in three months. At the end of August, an oil spill left a slick running for miles along the coast.

Oil spills are common in the country, where enforcement of environmental regulations is lax and armed gangs frequently damage pipelines to steal crude. Shell, Mobil and other oil majors believe thieves are responsible for most of the spills on shore.

A U.N. report last year criticised the government and multinational oil firms for 50 years of oil pollution that has devastated the Ogoniland region, and some communities are attempting to sue for compensation in Western courts.

“Our prayers are for tough punishment on the oil companies operating the Niger Delta,” said secretary of the fishermen’s association, Mr. Inyang Ekong.

Attempts to sue the oil giants abroad have not yielded the desired fruits yet.

Shell is battling a case instituted by four Nigerian farmers that it should pay compensation for damage to their land.

The farmers are suing the company in a civil court in The Hague, claiming oil spills ruined their livelihoods.

Shell’s lawyers told the court it could not be held liable because most spills were caused by criminal damage.

The case is being brought against Shell by the farmers and the Dutch arm of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

If their case is successful, it could pave the way for thousands of other compensation claims.

The case is linked to spills in Goi, Ogoniland; Oruma in Bayelsa State and a third in Ikot Ada Udo, Akwa Ibom State.

A ruling is expected early next year.

President Goodluck Jonathan seems less concerned about oil spillages. His administration has not cleaned up Ogoniland as directed by the UN.

He seems pre-occupied with removing fuel subsidy.

Jonathan’s speech last Thursday while receiving the report of the graduating participants of the Senior Executive Course 34, 2012 of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, at the Presidential Villa shows his thinking on subsidy.

He said full deregulation of the downstream sector is the solution to the current fuel shortage.

Jonathan said: “The popular thinking is that deregulation will bring higher prices; the government insists it will not. The policy says the government will ensure regular supply and free some cash to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.”

To Jonathan, to attract investors, who will build refineries and end importation of petroleum products, subsidy must go.

Already, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had warned the Federal Government against any surreptitious move to increase the price of petroleum products in the country.

NLC President, Mr. Abdulwahed Omar, warned in a statement on Friday that any increase in the price of fuel would lead to a crisis as the congress would call out Nigerians to resist it.

He said any increase would culminate in a crisis that would surpass last January’s anti-fuel price hike demonstration.

Omar urged Jonathan to focus government attention on the need to frontally tackle the corruption that had held the nation’s oil sector hostage.

He said the President should ensure the prosecution of those indicted for subsidy fraud and the diversion of 1.7 trillion Naira funds meant for the industry, rather than venturing into a total removal of petroleum subsidy.

Other groups, such as the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) have kicked any total subsidy removal too.

These are sure trying times for the industry.

The Nation Newspapers

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