Tag Archives: Nigeria oil pollution

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

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Showing their Claws-Ogoni versus Royal Dutch Shell

shell

The widow of a Nigerian activist is planning to sue Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch courts alleging the oil company was complicit in the execution of her husband by the Nigerian military in 1995, court documents filed in the United States/Esther Kiobel has filed an application in New York to secure documents from Shell’s US lawyers, which she could use in the Dutch action.

The filings with the US District Court for the Southern District Court of New York said she planned to begin the action before the end of the year.“Ms. Kiobel will demonstrate that Shell encouraged, facilitated, and conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against the Ogoni people,” a memorandum in the application filed last week said.
Kiobel previously took her lawsuit to the United States but the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 the case could not be heard because the alleged activities took place outside the country.

In 2009 prior to that ruling Shell had agreed in the United States to pay $15.5 million to settle lawsuits related to other activists executed at the same time as Barinem Kiobel, including author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.    [three separate lawsuits were brought by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa].

The Nigerian military cracked down heavily on local opposition to oil production by a Shell joint venture in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s. Kiobel alleges that Shell provided support to the military in its crackdown.  A Dutch court ruled in December that Shell may be sued in the Netherlands for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, although it did not say Shell was responsible..

Excerpts from Shell faces possible Dutch lawsuit over Nigerian activist’s execution, Reuters, Oct. 18, 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

What is Not New: Shell Oil Pollution in Nigeria

Bayelsa on Niger Delta

Farmers impacted by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Kolo Creek oil fields spill in Otuasega, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, have gone to court over the April 15, 2015 spill, which polluted their farms.According to the farmers, they were excluded from a Joint Investigation Visit to probe the impact of the spill despite their attempt to draw the attention of the team to their impacted farms.

A fish farmer, Mr. Aku Asei, whose three ponds were impacted, said the affected farmers numbering over 50 resolved to take legal action over the incident in the wake of the alleged claim of sabotage by Shell.”This is a clear case of the powerful and rich oil firm against the weak and poor farmers. They are claiming that the spill was caused by sabotage and abandoned the polluted environment. The regulations which they relied on to absolve themselves clearly stated that the operator of the field where pollution occurs must clean up the site irrespective of the cause but SPDC officials declined to capture the farms as impacted areas….[T]he spill was as a result of negligence by SPDC surveillance contractors deployed to guard the facility…

The farmers, made up of fish farmers, banana and plantain plantation owners in the area also appealed to Bayelsa State Government to assist them in prevailing on the oil firm to clean up the areas and pay compensation to them.
Nigeria: Farmers Take Shell to Court Over Oil Spill Impact in Bayelsa, AllAfrica.com, May 12, 2015

How to Squander a Country: Nigeria

Gates of Oil reifnery in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Image from wikipedia

Dead fish wash up on the once-fertile shores of creeks around Bodo, a town in the Niger delta, that are covered with crude oil more than six years after two massive spills. Locals have only now received compensation from Shell, the oil firm responsible for the leaks. For the first time in half a decade, fishermen have cash to start businesses, repair their houses and send children to school… “Look,” says the chief of a tiny town called B-Dere, just a few miles from Bodo. He gestures to the deathly-black banks still bearing the marks of the slicks. “There is nothing to drink, nowhere to fish. What good has come from it?”

The cash that the oil industry provides has greased Nigerian politics for decades. Gross mismanagement and corruption in the industry are the causes of much of the inequality and discontent with the ruling party in an economy that is not just Africa’s largest but that ought to also be one of its wealthiest…

Nigeria pumps something like 2m barrels of oil a day. These account for most of its exports and about 70% of government revenues. But official figures are as murky as its polluted creeks. Volumes are recorded only at export terminals rather than at the wellhead, says Celestine AkpoBari of the Port Harcourt-based advocacy group, Social Action. Were a proper tally kept, he says, corruption would be exposed on a scale that would shock even the most cynical Nigerian.

It seems likely that more than 100,000 barrels of crude are stolen (or “bunkered” in the local parlance) every day, at a cost to the state and investors of billions of dollars a year. Politicians, oil workers and security forces are said to be behind the complex cartels that steal, illegally refine and sell crude oil. They have amassed almost unimaginable wealth in a country where poverty is still rife.

Oil’s taint has seeped into almost all levels of government and business. Yet the central problem is found in the petroleum ministry, which wields vast unaccountable power. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state-owned behemoth, is responsible for all aspects of the industry, from exploration to production and regulation. It is among the most secretive oil groups in the world, and is “accountable to no one”, says Inemo Samiama, country head of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a non-profit group.

In 2013 the former governor of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, alleged that $20 billion in oil revenues was missing from state coffers. He was fired for his troubles soon after. …

Even where cash has not been nicked, it has often been squandered. Take the Excess Crude Account (ECA), a sovereign-wealth fund intended to cushion Nigeria’s budget against falling oil prices. Most of it was spent over the past two years, despite oil prices being relatively high for most of that period.

The industry itself is in as sorry a state as the government’s finances. Although oil practically gushes from the ground in parts of the delta, oil output has been stagnant for years and billions of dollars of investment are stalled because of uncertainty over a new law for the industry.  This is holding back Nigeria’s economy almost across the board. Because the industry has failed to build the infrastructure to pipe gas to domestic consumers such as power plants, much of it is simply flared and burned: Britain reckons that some $800m worth of Nigeria’s gas a year goes up in smoke. The country is also chronically short of fuel even though it has four state-owned oil refineries. Because of poor maintenance and ageing equipment they operate at well below capacity, forcing Nigeria to import about 70% of the fuel it needs. There is little incentive for reform since the government pays hefty subsidies to NNPC to keep on importing…

But a starting point should be to halt subsidies for fuel imports. At a stroke that would undercut a major source of corruption and crime (both on land and at sea) that spills into neighbouring countries, the destination for smuggled consignments of cheap Nigerian fuel. It should also take a close look at NNPC, which should not be allowed both to participate in the market and regulate it. Some of its assets could be privatised. The ruling party and opposition are considering both….

For communities in Ogoniland, the most pressing problem is cleaning up. Shell has promised to mop up the mess around Bodo, though the process has yet to start. Compensation is one thing, Bodo residents say, but what they really want is their livelihood back.

Nigeria’s oil: Crude politics, Economist,  Mar. 28, 2015, at 54

Shell in Nigeria: Oil Pollution and Human Rights Abuses

A group of 11,000 Nigerians launched a suit against Royal Dutch Shell at the London High Court on Friday, (March 23, 2012) seeking tens of millions of dollars in compensation for two oil spills in 2008 that they say destroyed their livelihoods. The case will be closely watched by the industry for precedents that could have an impact on other big claims against Western oil companies accused of polluting poor countries, including Chevron’s protracted dispute with Ecuador.

SPDC, a Shell-run joint venture between Nigeria’s state oil firm, Shell, EPNL and Agip, has admitted responsibility for two spills that devastated the Bodo fishing communities in the restive Niger Delta, where a maze of pipelines criss-cross mangrove swamps and creeks.  But Shell and the London lawyers representing the claimants disagree about how much oil was spilt and how much compensation they should get. Talks to resolve it broke down last week.  “They made an offer and the community quite rightly said this is ridiculously low,” said Martyn Day, of the London law firm Leigh Day & Co, who is leading legal proceedings. He said his hope was to resume negotiations with Shell at some point.  Day declined to say how much Shell had offered. He said his clients would be claiming “many millions of dollars” through the High Court, but there was no precise figure because there were 11,000 claimants so far but more might join the action later.

Shell says 4,000 barrels of oil in total were spilt in Bodo in 2008 as a result of operational failures and a clean-up was completed in 2009. It says that since then, more oil has been spilt due to sabotage and oil theft, known as “bunkering“…..

Day disputed this. He said experts had put the amount spilt because of Shell’s two operational failures at 600,000 barrels, and that any bunkering that took place in the area would account for no more than 1 percent of that.  In a report in November 2011, human rights group Amnesty International blamed Shell for spilling 280,000 barrels in Bodo and called on it to pay $1 billion to clean up the Niger Delta.  If the figures given by Amnesty or by Day are close to the truth, that would make the Bodo spill one of the biggest in history. By comparison, the volume spilt in Alaska in the Exxon Valdez disaster was estimated at 257,000 barrels.  The discrepancies between the different estimates of the Bodo spills illustrate how hard it is to get an accurate picture of what goes on in the remote creeks of the Delta.

In a region where millions of people scrape a living from subsistence fishing or farming and live in mud-huts with no electricity, the presence for decades of a multi-billion-dollar oil industry with its high-tech equipment and luxurious compounds for expatriate workers has led to deep resentment.  Pipeline sabotage by militants campaigning for a greater share of oil revenues, or by local criminals looking to benefit from clean-up contracts, are common there.

Industry experts say bunkering may have siphoned off as much as 20 percent of Nigerian production. Kidnappings for ransom of foreign workers have also been a problem at certain periods, and governments have responded by paying off the gangs.

Rivalries between neighbouring communities over their perceived rights to compensation or other revenues to be had from oil companies operating in their areas frequently boil over into violent conflict, adding to the Delta’s poisonous mix.  SPDC’s Sunmonu gave a flavour of this on Friday when he told BBC Radio 4 that the company wanted to help but there was “lots of intra-communal strife making it difficult for anyone to have meaningful negotiations”. He said lots of people who claimed to have been affected by the Bodo spills were lying.  The Bodo case is particularly troublesome for Shell because the area is in Ogoniland, a part of the Delta that was the scene of one of the company’s worst public relations disasters.  In 1995, nine Ogoni activists including the environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had been campaigning against Shell’s activities in his homeland, were tried on trumped-up charges and hanged by the then military dictatorship of Sani Abacha.  Saro-Wiwa has become a martyr to many environmental activists around the world. Although Shell was not directly responsible for his death, it was widely blamed for cooperating with Abacha’s brutal and corrupt regime.

The case has echoes of a legal saga involving Chevron’s operations in Ecuador that has spanned nearly two decades.

REFILE-Nigerians sue Shell in London over Delta pollution, Reuters, Mar. 23, 2012