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Whither Nigeria’s contingency plan for oil spills?

Only a few weeks ago when the United States-based television- Cable News Network (CNN) carried a well researched report on the phenomenon of oil spillage…

Only a few weeks ago when the United States-based television- Cable News Network (CNN) carried a well researched report on the phenomenon of oil spillage and its consequences on the environment, the situation of perennial crude oil spillages in the oil rich Niger Delta region was basically highlighted among the worst case scenarios in the World.

Specifically the deepwater horizon, owned by Transocean and leased to British petroleum, caught fire April 20, 2010 after an explosion and Sank. Eleven oil rig workers are missing and presumed dead. Already the United States President Barrack Obama and the United States Congress have compelled British Petroleum to set up a Victims’ Compensation Trust Fund worth $20 billion to settle all victims of the oil spillage.

For the purpose of clarity, an oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, further stated that the term oil spill often refers to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters.

Experts working on the contentious issues surrounding the phenomenon of oil spillage say that the most disturbing of these crises, considering its adverse implications for human, plant and animal lives and the ecosystem, is the problem of environmental despoliation and degradation resulting from leakage/blow out of facilities of oil companies and nefarious activities of pipeline oil vandals, which often lead to oil spillage and the attendant catastrophic outbreak of fire.

Determined to tackle the challenges of oil spillage in the country, the Federal Government and other relevant stakeholders had met in different fora to deliberate on how to review the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) with a view to ensuring preparedness and prompt and effective response to the ugly incidents. The outcome of such series of deliberations was the approval of the NOSCP of 2003, which was later backed by an Act passed by the National Assembly in 2005 and signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on October 18, 2006. The Act, which was published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette, No. 72, volume 93 of December 29, 2006 as Act NO. 15, led to the establishment of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).

The enabling Act setting up the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) empowers the body to do damage assessment to give an unbiased deal on the issue of compensation to the affected communities where oil spillage occurs especially if such are not triggered by third party interference. Section II© of the oil pipelines Act, of 1969 specifies that there is no compensation if third party interference is traced as the cause of oil spill.

At a recent interaction with leaders of the civil society with the Federal minister of Environment we were told that the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency has completed the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps of Nigeria Coastal lines from Badagry to Calabar, stretching 50 kilometers inland for the purpose of guiding and ensuring appropriate response mechanism required for different environmentally sensitive areas in the event of oil spill.

We gathered that the project which commenced in 2007 captured the sensitivity ranking of Nigerian coastline from Badagry to Calabar 50 kilometers inland to determine the degree of sensitivity of the areas to oil spill incidents and to serve as a base-map for reviewing and updating the National oil spill contingency plan (NOSCP). The Environmental sensitivity index map was successfully launched by the Environment minister Mr John Odey on June 1 2010 in the presence of environmental stakeholders.   

Another strategic project currently in the works at the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] is the institutionalization of a national compensation regime and the process of arriving at an acceptable modality would be worked out and approved before the end of the year when stakeholders will meet to brainstorm on its workability.

Our investigation shows that the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency regularly conducts visits to oil companies for the purpose of facilities inspection even as it also ensure that all existing environmental standards and regulations are complied with in the installation and maintenance of the offshore and onshore oil facilities. But the Agency ought to carry credible civil society groups along.

One notorious fact which ought to be vigorously defeated is oil bunkering which results in oil spillage. Communities and oil companies must work with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency to put an end to oil bunkering which substantially ranks as the most disturbing cause of oil spill.

The hierarchy of the security community and all community leaders ought to work with NOSDRA so as to safeguard our environment. There are three types of factors that leads to oil spills namely; human error in the process of maintenance there could be spillage; pipeline rupturing or corroding can cause crude oil spillage and lastly but most importantly the largest cause of oil spill in Nigeria according to learned people and experts in the crude oil sector is the factor of third party interference or activities of oil thieves who break into the oil pipelines willfully with the criminal intent to steal, pillage and sell the products in the open markets. Experts believe that because of the high quality of Nigeria’s crude oil, oil thieves who engage in this criminal scheme do find easy markets because operators of manufacturing firms who use low pour fuel oil [LPFO] and high pour fuel oil [hpfo] to power their heavy engines are ever so willing to patronize these crooks.

The leadership of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria [MAN] must activate a proactive mechanism in close partnership with committed and patriotic members of the nation’s security community to fish out their members who are encouraging the thriving business of crude oil thefts in Nigeria. Government must do everything possible to build the capacity of officials of NOSDRA and also give them the enabling environment to operate even when oil business in Nigeria is done as joint venture partnership with government. Good environment promotes good health of citizens.

Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria

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