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Oil Spill: Environmentalist Advocates Stringent Regulation at Offshore Fields

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Pear Harold

An Environmental Rights Activist in Bayelsa State, Comrade Alagoa Morris has called for more stringent regulation of activities of oil firms operating offshore within Nigerian territorial waters.

Comrade Morris made the call on Wednesday, 20th of January, 2020, in reaction to an ongoing leak from Funiwa oilfield, operated by Chevron off the Atlantic coastline of Bayelsa State.
The environmentalist, who criticised the poor response by the oil firm operating in the area, added that recent incidents have shown that oil and gas exploration at offshore fields comes with greater risks to the maritime environment.

According to him, priority should be given to adequate equipment and funding of the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to ensure they have unfettered access to the offshore fields without relying on operators.

Fishermen operating near the Atlantic Ocean coastline had on Sunday reported an oil leak suspected to be from the Funiwa fields, but the operator, Chevron denied being responsible for the oil leakage.

General-Manager, Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, Mr Esimaje Brikinn, said in a statement that there was no oil leakage from its operations in Bayelsa.

“CNL, operator of the joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), (the NNPC/CNL JV), is aware of media reports suggesting an oil leakage from Funiwa field in Bayelsa.

“We wish to state that contrary to these reports, there has been no such oil leakage or spill incident at any of our facilities in Bayelsa State.

“Therefore, any observed crude oil in the environment is not from our operations. CNL remains committed to protecting people and the environment and conducting its operations reliably and efficiently,” he said.

Morris said that if the oil firm operates in an environmentally sustainable manner as they claim, their priority would be to activate the oil spill response mechanism rather than denying the spill as a first step.

The environmentalist recalled that a rig explosion and fire at the same field location on Ja. 16, 2012 had burnt down the KS Endevour facility and devastated the environment.

“Interestingly, this is happening on the same date, 16th January, nine years after the Chevron North Apoi explosion within the same environment.

“The offshore environment is more prone to environmental pollution because the water current spreads whatever is discharged wider and faster and before you know it the leaked crude is washed away.

“And when the regulators visit to take samples after the usual delays, the results will exonerate the operator, that is why the companies delay because they know that the only access to the area is by aircraft or vessels.

“And, I think these oil companies are trying to further deny victims of their activities by taking undue advantage of offshore operations.

“This is one reason offshore operations should be seen as a great threat to fishermen in terms of livelihood and public health.

“Shell also tried to wriggle out from its Bonga spill of December, 2011.

“Chevron, even when it admitted that its facility explosion of January 16, 2012 was due to operational failure; still dodged responsibility and went ahead to provide money which they termed ex gratia; for community development but fought in the courts to avoid culpability.

“In 2017 or so , we advocated for the Niger Delta States, especially the Bayelsa State government to establish a world standard science laboratory to assist communities and individuals test materials from oil industry induced pollution,” Morris said.

He regretted that governments, at federal and state levels have not demonstrated adequate commitment to the safety of the environment.

According to him, the lack of political will to protect the environment may be responsible for the low budgetary provision for the environment ministry in Bayelsa.

The environmentalist wondered why NOSDRA could not apply appropriate technology like satellite imagery, drones to monitor discharge of crude oil at oilfields and bring the culprit to book.

“As a result, the Ministry of Environment does not have functional marine crafts or official vehicles to take field officers promptly to and fro any community or sites of interest.

“Talks about the environment has been rhetoric and nothing more

“So, the oil industry operators have known that regulators are incapacitated by funding and equipment; so they are not bothered.

“The day the regulators would take their rightful place; the oil companies would have no options than do the right things or get truly penalised,” Morris said.

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