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Let oil companies account for spillages, gas flaring

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Sir: 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.

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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.

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.

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?

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 most which not only complicate enforcement but are curiously too old-fashioned for the changing demands of time. These laws have become obsolete to the extent that they now provide leeway for the operators in the sector to exploit both the government and host communities.

• Jerome-Mario Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

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