Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Shell's Bonga Bongo (and other beats)

Shell's Bonga Bongo (and other beats)
Nnimmo Bassey

Although the oil company Shell has pronounced the cause and source of its oil spill of 20 or so December 2011 this has remained nothing other than a company statement. Since that spill the company has writhed and contorted in efforts to prove to the world that it is responsive to concerns surrounding its notorious despoliation of the Niger Delta environment.

In these efforts the company announced that “less than 40,000 barrels” of crude oil escaped its pipe while loading an oil vessel at its Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility on the day of the incident. The company announced it was fighting the spills, deploying two aircrafts and five vessels in the effort.

In a bid to assure the world that the spill was insignificant, the company also announced that over a couple of days fifty per cent of the spilled crude had naturally dissipated – meaning the crude evaporated or sank beneath the waves. The company’s chemical assault on the slick was thus to fight a negligible errant sheen.

Without the satellite maps and photos published by SkyTruth there was a near total lack of independent information on the spill. Shell has thus largely been in control of what people know and say of the spill. Even officials of the Nigerian Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) did not come up with anything different from what the oil major claimed. The agency apparently swallowed the line Shell had cast in the waters that this spill was the largest in a decade. This was a masterstroke by Shell’s information managers, a coup of huge proportions. They almost succeeded in their game of enforcing a collective amnesia and deflecting focus to Exxon whose 1998 New Year’s spill Shell appropriated as a benchmark.

As we have already stated, this may indeed be the largest offshore oil spill in a decade in Nigeria, but certainly not the largest when the onshore is considered. Moreover, onshore spills occur virtually everyday and most go on for long periods of time before they are halted. Clean up? Look at Ogoniland and tell us what you think.

The oil companies are masters at understating (and underreporting) the amounts of crude they release into the Niger Delta environment. We remind ourselves here that Shell spilled 570,000 barrels of crude oil at its Forcados terminal in 1979.

A week after the Bonga spill there is still no independently verified record of what transpired at the Bonga FPSO. How much crude was actually spilled? What was the actual cause of the spill? What chemicals have been used in tackling the spill? What are the impacts on the endemic bonga fish species in the area and what does this mean to the food chain? These questions remain hanging and the answers are yet blowing in the wind.
The mandatory joint inspection visit (JIV) routinely manipulated by the industry is again a sore issue in the Bonga spill saga. Information has it that the culprit oil company has been engaging in efforts to distort the focus of the JIV and may indeed be attempting to dictate to the team made up of officials from the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR), NOSDRA, Delta State Ministry of Environment and the Nigerian Maritime Administration Safety Agency (NIMASA).

While the fundamental JIV was yet to be carried out, Shell got busy flying government officials and journalists over the Bonga region to prove that they had contained the spill and that other reported spills were not from the Bonga FPSO. Because the end of 2011 has seen intensified spill incidents onshore and offshore of the Niger Delta the company is having a hard time pushing public focus away from its environmental misdemeanours and convincing the public that its spill is not washing up everywhere.

Reports from a recent over-Bonga-spill-flight indicate that government officials refused to dance to beats from Shell’s bongo and conga drums. Fishermen and community environmental monitors had informed Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and others that they spotted crude oil in Exxon’s Inanga (name of another endemic fish specie) field off the coast of Akwa Ibom State, as well as in the Bisangbene River at Vanish Island in Odioma and St Nicholas areas of Bayelsa State. During the flight Shell reportedly sought to assure government officials that the thick crude they sighted on the waters was from a ship in the neighbourhood of the Bonga FPSO and not from Shell’s activities. The officials reportedly retorted that they could not exonerate Shell and blame the accused vessel from the air. Thorough investigations are needed, they rightly said.

The period has seen spills recorded at Otumara in Escravos area of Delta State where locals say it has been on for onward of two weeks without official records. Crude oil spills also hit River Ramos close to Escravos.

The season of spills also has one from AGIP’s facility at Okpotuwari in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. AGIP officials visited the spill location on 27 December 2011 but told the community people that they would return the following week to stop the spill. As we write this, the crude is spewing unchecked into the Okpotuwari environment. The people have no respite from these and other environmental assaults but the officials of AGIP and other oil companies must enjoy their New Year vacation undisturbed.

When will this ecocide be halted and the criminals docked?


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