#YourTurn: Oil Spills in the Niger-Delta – “Can we spare a thought for the Goose?”

By Tony Osae-Brown

It has been estimated that up to 1.5m tons of crude oil has been spilled in the Niger-Delta over the past half century…

As we hit the streets fighting over the removal of subsidy, a second crude oil spill in less than two weeks has occurred in the Niger-Delta, which produces more than 90 per cent of the crude oil that we now so desperately crave.   Reuters report that Royal Dutch Shell announced on Wednesday that it is working to plug a leak caused by a sabotage of its 70,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Nembe Creek line.  

The Shell statement notes that more than 200 barrels of spilled oil has been recovered. It is not clear if that is all the oil that spilled in the 70,000 bpd pipeline. Shell has blamed the latest incident on the activities of illegal oil thieves in the Niger-Delta. 

Shell had however admitted an earlier oil spill amounting to 40,000 barrels of crude which spewed into the sea off the coast of Nigeria. This, according to shell was caused by a loading accident at its offshore 200,000 bpd Bonga oilfield on December 20, 2011.  

Sky Truth, an independent environmental monitor, which displayed satellite images of the spill revealed that it covered an area “about 70 km (45 miles) long, 17 km (10 miles) wide at its widest, and covers 923 square kilometers (356 square miles) of ocean.” This spill was big enough to cover the whole of Nigeria if it had taken place on land. Nigeria has a total land mass of 910 sq km.  

This indicates that this spill was quite significant and could easily qualify as one of the biggest oil spills in Nigeria’s history except that oil spills in the Niger Delta is so common that it seems to have become a routine. 

It has been estimated that up to 1.5m tons of crude oil has been spilled in the Niger-Delta over the past half century since the first oil well was drilled in Oloibiri. Amnesty International actually estimates that at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled within the period.  This is almost twice the estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil spilled in the US Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill disaster considered as the worst in US history.  That spill which occurred in the US in 2010, has cost BP an estimated $40 billion with $20 billion of it being paid as compensation to all those that were directly or indirectly affected by that spill.

 In the Niger-Delta, what is good for the Goose is not good for the Gander. Crude oil spills has brought misery and certain death. A study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reveals the depth of crude oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Some of the most shocking revelations in the study include the fact that in some parts of Ogoniland, where the study was carried out and which has experienced the longest period of oil exploration, “the study found heavy contamination present 40 years after an oil spill occurred, despite repeated clean up attempts.”  

Other shocking revelations of the UNEP study include the discovery that in 49 pollution sites examined, UNEP found hydrocarbon deposits in the soil at depths of at least five metres. At 41 sites, the hydro carbon pollutions had reached groundwater at levels in excess of Nigeria standards.  

The report quotes a specific case, close to a Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) product pipeline “where an 8 cm layer of refined oil was found floating on the ground water which serves the community wells.”  

Surface water throughout the Niger Delta creeks contains hydrocarbons with floating layers of crude oil varying from thick black oil to thin sheets. For example, community members from Nesisioken Ogale are actually drinking water from a well that is contaminated with benzene, “a known carcinogen, at levels 900 times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. 

The report had details of how a people’s way of life have been destroyed, state of health impaired and life expectancy cut short due to the environmental pollution which they are forced to bear all their lives. The report concludes that it will take an average of $1 billion over 30 years to clean up Ogoniland.  

Since this report was released I have not heard of any major action taken by the Nigeria government. No compensations have been announced by Shell or NNPC and all its joint venture partners for this massive destruction visited on the Niger Delta. I am yet to hear of any immediate action that will be taken to ensure that the children of the Niger Delta do not suffer the faith of their fathers.

 The latest oil spill even complicates things further for people in the Niger Delta. With their lives on land destroyed by oil spills, the UNEP study showed that the people have had to go to the deep sea to fish. Now we are beginning to get off shore spills. The implication is obvious.  

So, as you take to the streets insisting over subsidy, spare a thought for the Goose that lays the golden egg because the burden of laying the golden egg is suffocating.

Tony Osae-Brown is a Financial Journalist who writes for mergermarket, occasionally provide commentaries on BBC and recently worked on banking transparency publication in Nigeria.

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