Tag Archives: Niger Deltans

Cash or CleanUp? life in the oil polluted swampland

Image from http://cas2.umkc.edu/Geosciences/LCAM/NIGER_DELTA/PAGES/N_Sat_vali_Warri.htm

Nearly a decade after two catastrophic oil spills in the Niger Delta, a comprehensive clean-up has been launched in 2017 in the southern Nigerian region.

Earlier this month, crews of young men equipped with high pressure hoses began to attack the crude oil blighting the creeks and mangrove swamps where they live.  Workers from Bodo in Rivers State are beginning a three-year project that claims to mark a new approach to cleaning up the delta, the vast polluted swampland pumping the oil vital to Africa’s largest economy.

Four hundred workers will clear dead foliage and spilled oil before planting new mangroves. Where they are working is small but organisers hope the anti-pollution drive can be repeated elsewhere in the delta.

Unlike clean-up operations run routinely by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, this one is backed by local communities and teams of scientists who will take samples of water, mud and soil in each area to measure progress and determine the best cleaning method.  Funded by Shell and its joint venture partners, the clean-up is the culmination of years of legal wrangling and international pressure to overcome animosity and mutual suspicion that have divided locals, government and oil companies.

Shell declined to say how much it was spending, while leaders see it as a glimmer of hope in a benighted land where many wells are not safe to drink from and fishing and farming are devastated.

“The Niger Delta is at a crossroads,” said Inemo Samiama, chairman of the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI), managing the clean-up. “We have a lot of polluted sites. We need something we can refer to, some shining example.”

The work of BMI covers 10 sq km, a fraction of the 70,000 sq km Delta.  As workers walk through gnarled, dead mangrove roots in protective gear and masks, oil seeps into their footprints – remnants of spills for which Royal Dutch Shell admitted responsibility. Despite the optimism, environmentalists point out at BMI’s work rate, it will take 21,000 years to clean the entire delta and that’s not including the 10 years of legal battles it took to make it happen.  Communities in eight other Delta states are unhappy they have no clean-up plan, fuelling the resentment underpinning militant movements that hit production last year and helped tip Nigeria into its first recession in 25 years.  One group, the Niger Delta Avengers, has threatened a return to violence. They say government is not keeping its promises to clean up the delta and provide more jobs, money and infrastructure.

Bodo received support from British law firm Leigh Day, which negotiated a 55 million pound pollution settlement with Shell in 2015. Leigh Day said it agreed to freeze a separate case to force a clean-up via British courts in order to give the BMI a chance.  Ogoni, the wider area in which Bodo sits, was the subject of a 2011 UN Environment Programme report warning of catastrophic pollution in the soil and water.

King Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi of the Ogale community is on the board of a wider Ogoni clean-up effort and is optimistic its own clean-up, due to start next year, will work. But he fears it will not be replicated elsewhere without another marathon battle in the London courts.“The only place you get legal success is the international courts,” he said.

Under Nigerian law, oil companies must begin cleaning up any spill within 24 hours. But the remoteness of spills and lax enforcement mean this rarely happens.  Ferdinand Giadom, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt and technical advisor to the Bodo cleanup, said communities often block clean-ups in the hopes of cash settlements. Even in Bodo, works were delayed by two years due to local infighting.

Shell said most oil spilled last year was due to sabotage or theft for illegal refining. It also said communities block access to sites, making cleaning more difficult.

Excerpts from Anger on the margins of historic clean-up in Nigeria’s Delta, Reuters, Nov. 9,  2017

Escaping 9 oil spills per month

The oil-rich Niger Delta has generated billions of dollars for Shell over the past 60 years, but the company’s operations have been plagued by sabotage, theft and oil spills that ravaged the local environment.  Though Nigeria was one of its most prolific regions for crude production in 2015, Shell has sold off tracts of onshore oil fields. Its new focus—sealed with the mammoth $50 billion acquisition of BG Group PLC this year—is deep-water wells off the coasts of the U.S. and Brazil and a historic shift toward natural gas that puts it at the forefront of oil companies offering a more climate-friendly image to investors.

The hearings in London’s High Court on November 2016 represented an early test for cases brought by the community of Ogale and a group from the Bille Kingdom. The communities are hoping to hold Shell accountable for environmental damage they claim has been caused by spills from infrastructure operated by Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC.  Shell is expected to argue that only the subsidiary should be held liable and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria, SPDC’s base and where the incidents took place…

But the communities and their lawyers say seeking justice in Nigeria won’t hold Shell responsible for the actions of its subsidiary and is extraordinarily difficult...“You cannot fight Shell in Nigeria,” the king of Ogale, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, said in a phone interview. “Shell is Nigeria, Nigeria is Shell.

It is a point Shell has already contested in The Hague, where four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth successfully appealed a ruling that was largely in Shell’s favor in 2015, allowing them to pursue a case against the company in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the company said it experienced on average nine oil spills a month caused by sabotage or theft, with a handful of additional spills caused by operational issues. An uptick in violence this year has knocked important export terminals out of action for months at a time, though divestments onshore have helped reduce the overall number of spills Shell has recorded…

The company has already paid out £55 million, or roughly $80 million, to compensate another Niger Delta-based community in a settlement reached last year after they brought a separate lawsuit in London. In that instance, Shell admitted the spills were caused by operational failures.

Excerpts from Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2016

The Niger Deltans 1992-2016

Niger Delta states of Nigeria. image from wikipedia

They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Little is known about the new radical group that has claimed a series of pipeline bombings in Nigeria’s oil-producing region this year and evaded gunboats and soldiers trawling swamps and villages.  Their attacks have driven Nigerian oil output to near a 22-year low and, if the violence escalates into another insurgency in the restive area, it could cripple production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will crush the militants, but a wide-scale conflict could stretch security forces already battling a northern rebellion by hardline Sunni Muslim group Boko Haram.  Militancy has been rife over the past decade in the Delta, a southern region which is one of the country’s poorest areas despite generating 70 percent of state income.

Violence has increased sharply this year – most of it claimed by the “Avengers” – after Buhari scaled back an amnesty deal with rebel groups, which had ended a 2004-2009 insurgency.Under the deal, more state cash was channelled to the region for job training and militant groups were handed contracts to protect the pipelines they once bombed. But Buhari cut the budget allocated to the plan by about 70 percent and cancelled the contracts, citing corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The “Avengers” have carried out a string of attacks since February 2016… The group has emailed journalists a statement saying they were fighting for an independent Delta and would step up their attacks unless oil firms left the region within two weeks.”If at the end of the ultimatum you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations,” it said. “It will be bloody. So just shut down your operations and leave.””To international oil companies, this is just the beginning and you have not seen anything yet. We will make you suffer,” it said.

Authorities have no hard facts about the group – such as its size, bases or leadership…Diplomats and security experts say it has shown a level of sophistication not seen since the peak of the 2004-2009 insurgency, which halved Nigeria’s oil output. They say it must be getting help from sympathetic oil workers in identifying the pipelines to cause maximum damage….

In February 2016 the group claimed an attack on an undersea pipeline, forcing Shell to shut a 250,000 barrels a day Forcados terminal. In May 2016, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform, shutting the Warri and Kaduna refineries…

Reuters, like other media, has been unable to reach the group, which mainly communicates via Twitter, with the location tracker switched off, and on its website.Its members describe themselves there as “young, well travelled” and mostly educated in eastern Europe.

Given the lack of intelligence about the militants, the army launched a wide-ranging hunt across the Delta this week, sending gunboats into mosquito-infested creeks and searching villages in the middle of the night. But some residents say such a heavy-handed military approach stokes dissent in the Delta where many complain of poverty despite sitting on much of Nigeria’s energy wealth. They say some villagers help militants to hide in the hard-to-access swamps….

Executives [oil firms in Nigeria] met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in May 2016 and one of them warned the government was being “too direct and blunt” and needed to find some balance, according to a source familiar with the discussions….Many locals in the Christian south see Buhari, a Muslim northerner, as an oppressor.

Excerpts ‘Avengers’ threaten new insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta, Reuters, May 16, 2016

According to their website: The Nigerian State is like the biblical Egypt, the Government of the Federation is like the Biblical Pharaohs, President Buhari is like the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses, the Niger Delta People are like the Jews while the Niger Delta Avengers is Moses. So all we are asking is let our people go (NIGER DELTANS).

See also UN on Ogoniland oil damage

Shell Nigeria and the Ogoni People

Nigeria