Taming Nigeria’s oil spillage and gas flaring scourge

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

The recent news report that the Okordia-Rumekpe 14-inch crude truck line operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) discharged some 213 barrels of crude oil into Ikarama community in Bayelsa, has again brought to our consciousness that though Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world, yet, it is still riddled with third world challenges. 

Essentially, while clarifying that an estimated 1.34 hectares of land was polluted by the leakage which followed a rupture on the pipeline, SPDC among other things confirmed that probe into the incident had been concluded, Noting that out of the 213 barrels of SPDC’s bonny light crude stream leak, some 110 barrels are recoverable from the ongoing recovery exercise at the site, leaving an estimated spilled volume at 109.12 barrels.

Admittedly, these claims by Dutch oil giant are verifiable facts but may not be the only explanation. Their clarification notwithstanding, there are indeed reasons that qualifies such happening in the Nigeria’s oil and gas industry as a reality that demands holistic analysis.

Let’s begin with reality

Aside from the awareness that spillage occurs, communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are violated in such cases, and, the oil industry, ‘by its admission, has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which needs to be identified and studied in details while communities adversely affected are adequately compensated for their losses’, this latest spill is coming weeks after a similar one from a ruptured pipeline facility managed by one of the International Oil Companies operating in the Niger Delta that reportedly ravaged Benikrukru and adjourning communities in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta state. And another in the early hours of Sunday, March 14, 2021, at Polobubo/Opuama Communities, Warri North Local Government Area, of the state, could settle.

Such litany of spillages also include but not limited to, namely; the ‘historic’ large scale spillages in places such as the Ogoni Land, Rivers state and the Erovie community in Ozoro, Isoko North Local Government of Delta state 1990s, both in the Nigeria’s South South geopolitical zones, of which their negative impacts lingers.

Are these the only explanations/examples?

The answer is a definite no, as there exist yet other critical reasons/concerns why we should view the situation as a crisis.  

First and very fundamental is the inability of Nigeria and Nigerians to appreciate, and treat crude oil spillage and environmental pollution resulting from exploration/crude oil production related activities as a national calamity.

The second is the stunning consciousness that gas flaring/environmental degradation resulting from crude oil prospecting/production related activities in the country is under reported. This second concern stems from a recent comment which according to media report was credited to the Director-General, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, who stated that findings by his agency showed that an average of five oil spills was recorded daily in Nigeria. Musa, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, said, “In 2018 we had about 600 oil spill incidents and in 2019, we had over 700 oil spill-impacted sites across the country. .

This wakeful comment becomes even more relevant to the present discuss when one remembers that Nigeria according to reports is dotted with about 139 gas flare locations spread across the Niger Delta both in onshore and offshore oil fields where gas which constitutes about 11 percent of the total gas produced are flared.

More than anything else, it brings to mind the questions as to; what exactly impedes the development of the petroleum sector and Niger Delta region? Is there no legislative works? Why is such legislative framework not providing a strong source of remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by oil exploration and production in the coastal communities? If these frameworks exist, why is it not effective and enforceable? Is the framework as comprehensive as a legal solution to the issues of oil-related violations? Why has the nation not learned a valid lesson from the Dutch government where all operators are required to restore their areas of operation back to how nature intended?

Regardless of what others may say, the truth is that if as a nation, we are desirous of developing policies that will engineer prosperity in the oil and gas sectors while saving the people of the region, then, we must be ready to locate the strategic triangles that hold the key to success.
Separate from the fact that success requires a careful analysis of the various kinds of knowledge needed to make innovation possible, the need for the nation to straddle the middle ground has become necessary since both the ministry and sector has for a very long time manifested signs of an institution with neither primed nor positioned potentials. And as we know, any organization, be it private or public that fails to search for its potentials leaves its survival to chance.
At this instant, looking at both the operational templates of the Ministry and how the Up, Mid and the downstream players of the Petroleum industry has become reputed for non-compliance to set rules, it will not be a wrong assertion to conclude that the critical factors fueling crude oil spillage/gas flaring can be divided into the following; the existence of  multiple but obsolete regulatory framework which characterizes the oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria; Federal Government failure to get the nations’ refineries back to full refining capacity; the Petroleum Ministry’s inability to get committed  to making International Oil  Companies(IOC’s) adhere strictly to the international best practices as it relates to their operational environment; And finally, non-existence of clear responsibility/work details and action plans for agencies and parastatals functioning under the ministry.

The above failures have as a direct consequence; cast a long dark shadow on the ministry, the sector and the region.
To explain these points beginning with the first challenge, it is worth commenting on that the business of crude oil exploration and issues of oil production in the country is regulated by multiple but very weak laws and Acts of which most of these laws not only complicate enforcement but are curiously too old-fashioned for the changing demands of time. Thereby, creates loopholes for operators, especially the International Oil Companies (IOC) to exploit both the government and host communities.
Some of these laws/Acts in question that has been in operation since the 1960s but currently not achieving their purpose includes but not limited to; the Petroleum Act of 1969, The Harmful Waste(Special Criminal Positions etc), Act 1988, Mineral Oil Safety Regulation 1963, Petroleum(Drilling and Production) Regulation 1969 (Subsidiary Legislation to The Petroleum Act), The off-shore Oil Revenue (Registration of Grants)Act 1971, Oil in Navigable Act 1968, Petroleum Production and Distribution(Anti Sabotage) Act 1975, Associated Gas Re-injection Act 1979, Associated Gas Re-injection(continued Flaring of Gas) Regulation, Associated Gas Re-injection(Amendment) Decree 1985, Oil Pipeline Act Chapter(CAP)338, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria(L.F.N.) 1990, and Gas Flare prohibition and punishment) Act 2016 among others.

Without minding their number, concepts, provisions and definitions, these laws have become obsolete, old-schooled and out-fashioned to the extent that it now provide leeway for the operators in the sector to exploit both the government and host communities.

Using the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Positions etc), Act 1988, to prove how defective these laws have become, it was described somewhere, as insufficient the definition of harmful waste by the Act based solely on its impact on human beings, and does not include its impacts on the environment and animals.
To be continued.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo.com

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