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Eshiet: Challenged ecosystem, contaminated air, our reward for harbouring natural resources

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Gas Flaring

A geologist and community leader in Esit Eket Local Council of Akwa Ibom State, Samuel Lawrence Eshiet, says most of the uncommon diseases that have been diagnosed in oil producing communities have been associated with gas flaring. In this interview with ANIETIE AKPAN, he laments that the Federal Government and ExxonMobil are not doing enough to preserve their wellbeing.

Local councils like Esit Eket, Eket, Ibeno, Eastern Obolo, Onna among others are said to be at the receiving end of gas flaring in the state. In what specific ways are they?

Most of the uncommon diseases that have been diagnosed in these local councils have been associated with gas flaring because the atmosphere is polluted, and they residents breathe in dangerous hydrocarbon, which end up causing cancer and all sorts of ailments.

The atmosphere around here is polluted to the extent that the health of the residents is thoroughly compromised.

On the environment, the impact is equally immense. In these areas, there is hardly anywhere that you would build a house and in less than 10 years the roof of the building would not be affected by rust as a result of the harmful effect of substances associated with gas flare.

As residents of a riverine area, we solely depend on aquatic components like fish, crabs, crayfish and the rest of them. We hardly can get anything out of the water again because the water is now polluted.

So, the fishes in the water do not have enough oxygen to breathe as living beings. As such, most of the species that we were used to have gone extinct and we are now left with nothing.  

We longer have the water to fish and carry out our trade as fishermen, and you know what that means to us economically. So, there is a serious downturn in the economy of the area as a result of the pollution of the ecosystem.

Our farmlands are polluted, as well because we see gas flaring as a form of spillage, even though the particulates are being thrown into the air and they spill into the atmosphere as acid rain, which also affects the soil.

The effects of gas flare in our communities are so glaring that apart from food crops that the yields have gone so bad, if you run your hand on the roof of cars that were parked outside overnight, you will see and feel the tar scum deposited on the car surface.

Same thing happens on rooftops and houses that doors were not properly shut. If you analyse drinking water, you will see particles deposited in the water. All these things are the by-products of flaring.

In our communities most people drink water from rooftops during rainy season, but because of gas flare many no longer do that, but those that still do it get easily infected because as you know, when you take such liquid into your system, you end up in the hospital.

How extensive is the damage done to oil bearing communities over the years as a result of constant gas flaring?

The damage is very extensive. For instance, let us go back to when Shell discovered the first oil well in Oloibiri in the 1950s.

Between then and now, hundreds of thousands of farmlands have been destroyed as a result of gas flaring.

The harmful effect on our health and that of the environment, we cannot really quantify. The waters that we drink and fish in have been destroyed to an extent.
 
Affected communities appear not to be seeking for compensation from oil companies that are flaring gas. The issue of compensation will ever constitute a problem.

In the United States where ExxonMobil comes from, what the firm and other oil companies do is that they pay compensation for every cubic feet of gas that is being flared.

There are adequate regulations that prescribe penalties on gas flaring and it is followed to the letter.

But here in our country, ExxonMobil, which is a major oil producing company prefers to flare the gas despite all the regulations that have been made by NNPC, NAPIMS and the rest of them, which have not been followed.

Having said that, if we are to quantify the damages, and the compensation that oil producing communities should be paid in Akwa Ibom State, we should be talking in the region of $50 trillion.

If laid down regulations are not followed, can’t affected communities take actions in view of the situation of things?

Before we think of any action, we are appealing to the Federal Government to be firm and resolute in its own decisions. In the first place regulations should be put in place and stiffer penalties should be imposed on oil companies that prefer to flare gas.

These firms feel it is cheaper to flare gas than to inject it into the soil or bottle it. Therefore, stiffer penalties should be imposed on oil companies that continue to flare gas and not the child’s play they have been doing, talking continuously without action.

We appeal to the Federal Government to monitor the activities of oil companies to the letter using relevant agencies like NAPIMS, NNPC and others, even though they are also guilty of this particular problem because they are not very serious about ending it. 

If these things continue and the Federal Government closes its eyes to the dangers that we are faced with, ranging from the challenged ecosystem to health concerns and contaminated air, then we are agitating that there should be some legislation that will empower the state and even local governments to have a say in what is happening in their communities since exploitation and exploration are on the exclusive list.

If we do not have the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the society, especially our ecosystem, I think we would have no other option than to protest until they see the need to come to our rescue. 

After we protest and they don’t listen to us, then we will take the issue of gas flaring to higher quarters like the World Court, United Nations.

I know doing all these would be very difficult as we are going to be faced with lots of blockades and resistance by the oil giants, but we should be able to take our case to higher quarters and let the world know what we are passing through by way of protests, agitations, seminars and symposiums.

ExxonMobil Headquarters in Lagos State, but we suffer the harmful effects of gas flaring in Akwa Ibom State, whereas the operational base should be in our own area in order to create development, tax revenue and employment for those who need to help themselves.

But indigenes of the place are offered contracts and employment by ExxonMobil

Of course they are not giving us employment and contracts anymore. In fact I will say that the percentage they have granted us is negligible.

It is less than 10 per cent and what happens to the other 90 per cent that are supposed to come to us? Foreigners are invading the area and things are happening to our exclusion and we are losing out on what we are supposed to have in our communities.

Simply put, ExxonMobil is not doing enough to help oil producing communities. What they are doing is negligible as far as I am concerned.


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