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Oil Spill: How Effective Is Amnesty Int’l Campaign On Curbing Sabotage?



The Amnesty International recently released a new report accusing some oil companies of hiding facts on oil spills in Nigeria prompting fresh debate on actual causes of the incident and responsiveness of operators, CHIKA IZUORA, writes.Oil Spill: How Effective Is Amnesty Int’l Campaign On Curbing Sabotage?

In November 2013, a report by Amnesty International said energy companies operating in the oil-rich Niger Delta region were not doing enough to ascertain what is causing the hundreds of spills reported every year in the region.

In a 66-page report, the rights group said oil companies, in particular Royal Dutch Shell, have made numerous claims about sabotage and oil theft that raise a series of questions.

However, in response to the unabating  situation, the National Assembly are mulling legislation that would tighten penalties for oil companies responsible for the spill, and the law, if passed, would make operators pay a $1,300 per barrel fine for spills.

Amnesty, in its report said the hundreds of oil spills reported in Nigeria every year were ruining the environment and putting human lives at risk, claiming that spills in the Niger Delta were the result of pipeline corrosion, maintenance issues, equipment failure, sabotage and theft.

“For the last decade oil companies in Nigeria, in particular Shell, have defended the scale of pollution by claiming that the vast majority of oil spills are caused by sabotage and theft of oil. There is no legitimate basis for this claim,”it said.

Even if Shell was right, Amnesty’s report said, it hasn’t done much to ensure its infrastructure in the Niger Delta was protected from vandals. But the problem extends beyond just Shell, the organisation said.

A Nigerian subsidiary of Italian energy company, Eni reported 471 spills in the Niger Delta, compared to the 138 from Shell from January to September.

Eni’s subsidiary also blames saboteurs, but Amnesty said there’s absolutely no information to support their claims.

Problems in Nigeria have cost Shell about 65,000 barrels per day in production. Shell in mid-October 2013, lifted force majeure on exports of Nigerian crude oil after repairs were made to a pipeline in the Niger Delta region.

Shell said about 2,200 barrels spilled from the Trans Niger Pipeline in October, a spill partially blamed on a hole in the pipeline drilled by unknown persons. The situation was not much better for ENI, which has also cut its production outlook in part because of problems in Nigeria.

Amnesty said Eni’s subsidiary, Aqip, was responsible for 4,014 barrels of oil spilled between January and September of that year. For Shell, it was 16,000 barrels during the same period.

Amnesty said there were “systemic flaws” in the way in which oil spills were investigated in Nigeria. The organisation said it took serious issues with what oil companies like Shell said about their operations in Nigeria.

Regulations, it said, were futile, and “there is no meaningful check on the oil companies’ operations in Nigeria.”

Again, last week, the Rights Group, claimed that oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Eni SpA may have misled regulators in Nigeria by wrongly attributing oil spills to theft and sabotage in order to avoid paying compensation to affected communities.

“Amnesty International researchers have identified that at least 89 spills may have been wrongly labeled as theft or sabotage when in fact they were caused by ‘operational’ faults,” the London-based group said in the report released on Thursday.

“Of these, 46 are from Shell and 43 are from Eni. If confirmed, this would mean that dozens of affected communities have not received the compensation that they deserve,” it added.

Shell and Eni, along with ExxonMobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Total SA operate joint ventures with state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp that pump most of the oil of Africa’s biggest producer.

In the southern Niger River delta, which is home to the country’s oil and gas industry, local communities are frequently in conflict with energy companies over allegations of pollution and environmental degradation linked with oil operations.

Details of the alleged spills said to have occurred from 2011, in the case of Shell, and from 2014 for Eni, have been given to the Nigerian government, which is being urged to reopen investigations into the incidents, Amnesty said.

However, Shell said it operates in a much responsible way observing all regulatory procedures.

A spokesperson for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), in response to LEADERSHIP enquiries on the allegations said, “The allegations levelled by Amnesty International are false, without merit and fail to recognise the complex environment in which the company operates where security, a sole prerogative of government, remains a major concern with persisting incidents of criminality, kidnapping, vandalism, threats from self-described militant groups.

“As operator of a joint venture, where the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has a majority interest, SPDC continues to work with federal and state government agencies, communities and civil society to create a safe operating environment.

“SPDC, in collaboration with government regulators, responds to spill incidents as quickly as it can and cleans up spills from its facilities regardless of the cause. We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.

“However, response to spills, clean-up and remediation depend on access to the spill site and ultimately on the security of personnel and equipment while work is ongoing.

“SPDC reiterates its commitment to carrying out operations in line with best practice in a responsible and environment-friendly manner.”


How Shell Responds To Spills

When a leak is identified, production is suspended and efforts made to contain any spilled oil. The company said it regularly test its emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.

In line with government’s regulations, a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team visits the spill site to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled and the  team is led by the SPDC staff and includes representatives of the regulatory bodies, police, the state government and impacted communities.

The SPDC JV cleans and remediates the area impacted by spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause and in the case of operational spills, it also pays compensation to people and communities impacted by the spill. Once clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected, and once satisfactory, approved and certified by Federal Government of Nigeria regulators, the Department of Petroleum Resources and National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.

SPDC’s remediation practices the response claimed are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN), Revised Edition 2002 as well as other relevant international standards. EGASPIN provides for the management and remediation of contaminated land. To this end, SPDC has researched and adopted techniques for cleaning up oil spills that we believe to be the most effective for the soil and climate conditions in the equatorial heat of the Niger Delta.

The SPDC JV also works with communities and civil society across the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. Wherever possible, local communities take part in the remedial work. SPDC is also the only oil and gas company in Nigeria to publish data on all spills in its areas of operation online. The oil spills website went live 2011.


Oil Spill Statistics In Nigeria

Attempts by LEADERSHIP to obtain accurate statistics of oil spill in Nigeria was scanty as reports on the extent of the oil spills vary.

The Department of Petroleum Resources, (DPR), estimated 1.89 million barrels of petroleum were spilled into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996 out of a total of 2.4 million barrels spilled in 4,835 incidents. approximately 220 thousand cubic metres.

Also, UNDP, report states that there have been a total of 6,817 oil spills between 1976 and 2001, which account for a loss of three million barrels of oil, of which more than 70 per cent was not recovered and 69 per cent of these spills occurred off-shore, a quarter was in swamps and 6 per cent spilled on land.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), also placed the quantity of petroleum jettisoned into the environment yearly at 2,300 cubic metres with an average of 300 individual spills annually.

However, because this amount does not take into account “minor” spills, the World Bank argues that the true quantity of petroleum spilled into the environment could be as much as ten times the officially claimed amount.

In 2010 Baird reported that between 9 million and 13 million barrels have been spilled in the Niger Delta since 1958. One source even calculates that the total amount of petroleum in barrels spilled between 1960 and 1997 is upwards of 100 million barrels.

Baird is an employee-owned wealth management, capital markets, asset management and private equity firm.


Causes Of Oil Spill

Oil spills are a common event in Nigeria and half of all spills occur due to pipeline and tanker accidents which account for 50 per cent other causes include sabotage, 28 per cent and oil production operations, 21 per cent with 1 per cent of the spills being accounted for by inadequate or non-functional production equipment, according to Wikipedia.

Corrosion of pipelines and tankers is the rupturing or leaking of old production infrastructures that often do not receive inspection and maintenances.

A reason that corrosion accounts for such a high percentage of all spills is that as a result of the small size of the oilfields in the Niger Delta there is an extensive network of pipelines between the fields, as well as numerous small networks of flowlines the narrow diameter pipes that carry oil from wellheads to flow stations allowing many opportunities for leaks. In onshore areas most pipelines and flowlines are laid above ground. Pipelines, which have an estimate life span of about fifteen years, are old and susceptible to corrosion. Many of the pipelines are as old as twenty to twenty-five years.

Shell admits that most of the facilities were constructed between the 1960s and early 1980s to the then prevailing standards. The Shell Petroleum and Development Company said it would not build them that way today.

Sabotage is performed primarily through what is known as “bunkering”, whereby the saboteur attempts to tap the pipeline. In the process of extraction sometimes the pipeline is damaged or destroyed. Oil extracted in this manner can often be sold.

Sabotage and theft through oil siphoning has become a major issue in the Niger River Delta States as well, contributing to further environmental degradation.

Damaged lines may go unnoticed for days, and repair of the damaged pipes takes even longer and oil siphoning has become a big business, with the stolen oil quickly making its way to the black market.

While the popularity of selling stolen oil increases, the number of deaths are increasing. In late December 2006 more than 200 people were killed in Lagos region in an oil line explosion.


Consequences Of Spills


Oil spillage has a major impact on the ecosystem into which it is released and may constitute ecocide. Immense tracts of the mangrove forests which are especially susceptible to oil (mainly because it is stored in the soil and re-released annually during inundations), have been destroyed. An estimated 5 to 10 per cent of Nigerian mangrove ecosystems have been wiped out either by settlement or oil.

The rainforest which previously occupied some 7,400 km² of land has disappeared as well.

Spills in populated areas often spread out over a wide area, destroying crops and aquacultures through contamination of the groundwater and  soils. The consumption of dissolved oxygen by bacteria feeding on the spilled hydrocarbons also contributes to the death of fish and in agricultural communities, often a year’s supply of food can be destroyed instantaneously, statistics revealed.



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