Excavators dig through soil polluted by decades of oil spills resulting from oil exploration. Standing by, and watching enthusiastically are the residents of Ogoniland, a region amid an environmental disaster, in the southeast of Nigeria.
“Soon, the water will be purified of any hydrocarbon residue,” promises an engineer.
The Alode-Eleme site, near Port-Harcourt, is one of 21 sites identified by the public oil pollution remediation project.
“We clean soil contaminated with hydrocarbons to make it fertile for agriculture,” explains Babatunde Benard, director of engineering firm Earth Pro.
The promise of the government of Muhammadu Buhari, the project to clean up polluted sites in the Ogoni country (Rivers State, Niger Delta) was officially launched in June 2016.
However, the work did not start until January 2019; just a few weeks before the presidential election of February 23.
“Finally, there is something concrete! We are no longer going to die of weird illnesses,” exclaims Princewill Osaroejiji, a leader of a local youth association. “We will be able to drink clean and unpolluted water, fish in the rivers, and return to the fields”.
Nigeria, with a production of around 2 million barrels per day, has the largest oil reserve on the continent, but oil companies are regularly singled out for their responsibility in ecological disasters such as oil spills, and large-scale environmental pollution.
Oil spills, Blackened waters, continued suffocation of Aqua Life, and the destruction of mangroves in Ogoniland
“Polluted water! Do not drink, do not fish, do not swim here,” warns a poster on the pier in Bodo. This does not prevent children from splashing around in the iridescent waters of the river, which gives off an odor of petroleum.
Across the region, in front of all wells, signs have been put up to warn against water consumption.
Locals dig for clean slicks, but the water that comes out of the pipes invariably gives off an aroma of used motor oil.
“Having pure water is like finding gold here,” says Kelvin, 16. “We cannot afford to drill a well ourselves, so we are content with this polluted water”.
According to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEP), in Ogale, a town in the region, spring water and groundwater contain levels of contamination with benzene – a highly carcinogenic substance – 900 times higher than the rate recommended by the World Health Organization.
Nearby, K-Dere is home to 52 oil wells, which were operated until 1993 by the Anglo-Dutch giant Shell.
The company still transports crude through pipelines in Ogoniland to Bonny, a huge natural gas field.
In 2015, after three years of trial, Shell finally agreed out of court to pay $ 70 million (€ 63 million) in compensation to some 15,500 residents of Ogoniland.
The multinational also agreed to start cleaning up the big 2008 oil spill, while maintaining that artisanal refineries, built by residents, were the main causes of pollution and leaks from oil pipelines.
Marvin Dekil, the coordinator of the clean-up project, assures us that $ 180 million has already been invested to clean up the water and restore the mangroves.
“Some people may think that we are moving slowly, but we want to get the best possible result,” he promises.
However, several residents of the region interviewed by AFP complain that they do not have enough information.
“The fishes are dead because of the pollution, if I want to catch something, I’m going to the high seas,” complains Bigboy Daamabel, a fisherman met on the Bonny Island.
As soon as he landed, merchants rush to buy the product of his catch of the day.
“Trading in fish is all I know how to do. But that hardly brings in any more money, because most of the fish are dead, ” says Beatrice, 55. “How long are we going to be able to continue like this?” “.
According to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEP), this “historic” oil spill cleanup is expected to take 25 to 30 years and cost more than $ 1 billion.
Shell False Claims in Retrospect: A report refutes Shell’s claim that the oil company has cleaned up serious oil spills in the Niger Delta.
The report “Clean it up: Shell’s false claims about oil spills in the Niger Delta” documents persistent pollution in four locations that were contaminated by oil leaks and that, according to the company, were rehabilitated years ago.
According to a report by the Nigerian Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) intended to commemorate the environmental activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed 20 years ago – on November 10, 1995. He had worked tirelessly for the rights of the people in the Niger Delta and denounced the damage caused by the oil industry.
“Shell has failed to adequately clean up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, exposing thousands of women, men, and children to polluted land, water, and air for years or even decades,” said Mark Dummett, business and human rights expert. “Oil spills wreak havoc on the fields, forests, and fishing grounds that the people of the Niger Delta rely on for food and livelihoods. You just have to look at the places and breathe in the air to see how ubiquitous they are Damages are.”
The report also addresses the failure of the Nigerian government to adequately regulate the oil industry. The responsible supervisory authority NOSDRA (National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency) does not have sufficient funds and continues to classify areas as “clean” that are contaminated with petroleum.
“On this anniversary, people in Nigeria and around the world are commemorating Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni people who were executed in 1995. With this in mind, Shell and the Nigerian government can no longer ignore what the oil industry is doing in the Niger Delta. For the oil has brought nothing but misery to many people in the region, “says Stevyn Obodoekwe, program director at CEHRD. “The quality of life of the people who have had to live here for decades amid oil vapors, oil-caked earth, and oil-contaminated rivers is poor.”
Investigation reveals contamination that Shell says has already been removed
The Niger Delta is the most important oil-producing region in Africa. The largest international oil company active there is Shell. Shell owns around 50 oil fields and 5,000 kilometers of pipelines. Much of this infrastructure is old and in poor condition. According to its figures, the oil giant admits 1,693 oil spills since 2007, but the real number is probably much higher.
In 2011, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) uncovered serious environmental pollution in Ogoniland caused by oil from Shell pipelines in a study. The UNEP study made it clear that the damage to the environment and the population was exacerbated by the inadequate cleanup measures on the part of the oil company. Shell then pledged to rehabilitate the areas designated by UNEP and to counter future oil leaks more effectively.
However, CEHRD carried out field surveys at four of these sites, which were classified as severely contaminated in 2011, and found that these areas were still visibly contaminated in 2015 – despite the assurance from Shell that they had been cleaned. The current contamination is demonstrably not due to new oil leaks, but to the inadequate remediation after past oil disasters.
One of these locations is Well No. 11 in the Bomu Oil Field. Black earth and layers of oil were found there 45 years after an oil leak, although Shell assures that it has cleaned the area twice (1975 and 2012). Elsewhere, the investigations found contaminated soil and water in the vicinity of housing developments and agricultural land, even though the Nigerian regulatory authority had classified these areas as “cleared”.
The investigation shows that Shell has failed to resolve key issues in its approach to remediating oil-contaminated areas in Nigeria, such as training and monitoring local service providers to carry out the work on site.
One such service provider hired by Shell spoke about the half-hearted and superficial cleanups that do not prevent or eliminate long-term environmental damage: “This is all about cover-up. You only have to dig a few meters and you find oil. The US simply dug up earth, made it disappear somewhere else, and then filled it all up again. “
The communities suffer most from the oil spill
The communities living in the Niger Delta spoke to CEHRD about how permanent pollution from oil spills has contaminated the soil and rivers that two-thirds of the population depends on for food and livelihoods.
Emadee Roberts Kpai is over 80 years old and worked in agriculture and fishing until a serious oil leak at the collecting pipe of the Bomu oil field in 2009: “Our streams no longer exist. The fishery is no longer there. The farm I worked on stopped operating because of the Shell oil spill. Crops are no longer yielding. There are no more fish in the water. We plant crops and they grow but the yields are not good. When Shell came here, they told us that everything would change for the better here and that we would all be happy if they found oil. Instead, we are now left empty-handed.”
Criticism bounces off Shell
Shell revealed that the company does not recognize the results of the investigation without giving further reasons. The company referred to its website, but only sparse information on the subject of oil remediation can be found there. Shell also reiterated its often-cited view that most oil leaks and associated contamination are not due to poor maintenance, but rather to illegal activities, such as oil theft from pipes.
Several reports have been published in the past that revealed false claims by Shell about illegal activities and the amount of oil spilled from corroded pipes. Under Nigerian law, the company that owns the oil pipelines is responsible for cleaning up the oil in the event of a leak, regardless of what caused the oil to leak.
Shell has been urged to be more transparent about its oil clean-up activities. The Nigerian government must ensure that the competent regulatory authority NOSDRA is better positioned.
“Shell says the oil spills were caused by theft. But even if this claim were true, that doesn’t excuse the corporation’s continued failure to clean up the oil spills. Shell’s blame can no longer detract from its broken promises and ailing infrastructure “says Mark Dummett.” As long as oil companies fail to meet their commitments, the Niger Delta will serve as a chilling example of how corporations promise prosperity to the local population, leaving scorched earth instead.”