The National Oil Spill Detection and Regulatory Agency (NOSDRA) documents reveal that oil companies cleaned up only two per cent (2.19%) of the 172 thousand spilt barrels of oil spillages reported within the past five years, according to its Oil Spill Monitor.
NOSDRA, along with other statutory regulatory bodies, are expected to inspect the amount of oil spills, identify the active pollutant(s) in each case, measure the impact of the oil spillage on the environment, and then certify whether the oil companies responsible have commenced or completed the cleanup of the spillages.
The entire volume of spills within the five years (January 2016 and June 13, 2021) is equivalent to over 850 fully loaded trucks emptied into the country’s territorial waters, onshore and offshore.
NOSDRA confirmed that only 4 out of 47 oil companies were involved in these 2% cleanups. The four are Shell, Agip, Chevron and Seplat. There was no indication that the remaining 43 companies cleaned up their oil spills at all.
For the companies that duly cleaned up their oil spills, the volume they cleaned was very little compared to the total number of barrels they spilt.
The 6 Oil Companies that spilt the highest volumes of crude oil
An examination of the oil spill monitor data revealed that Shell and NPDC alone have the highest number of barrels of oil spilt in the previous five years. The two companies account for 53% of oil spilt by all the 47 companies.
Shell and NPDC also independently recorded more barrels of oil spillage than 41 other oil companies combined.
Shell reported over 63 thousand barrels of oil spilt in 926 spill cases, while NPDC reported over 29 thousand oil spills in 87 different cases. Other oil companies with a high record of oil spillage are Agip, Aiteo E & P, Heritage and Eroton.
How did these 6 companies perform in cleaning up the spill?
According to the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor’s records, Agip was certified to have cleaned up 3, 216 barrels out of 18, 073 spilt in the last five years.
While Shell was certified to have completed cleanup of 480 barrels of oil spilt out of 63,236 barrels. There were no certified cleanup records for NPDC, Aiteo E&P, Heritage, or Eroton E & P.
While the remaining 41 oil companies were certified to have cleaned up 94 barrels of the 19,516 spilt barrels.
Despite documented cleanup efforts by Shell, Agip, and the remaining 41 oil companies, they continue to top the list of oil companies with the most oil spillage left uncleaned in the environment.
Shell has the most unresolved oil spill, followed by NPDC, which does not have any record of a certified cleanup.
NOSDRA certified only 150 out of 3177 cases of oil spills
According to NOSDRA’s records, the total 172 thousand barrels of oil spilt were a result of 3,177 incidents, which include incidents of corrosion, sabotage, equipment failure, and operational/maintenance error.
Out of the 47 companies, 26 claimed to have completed cleanups in 1,188 cases out of the total 3,177 incidents of oil spillages. This leaves 1,989 spill incidents unattended to or uncompleted, according to NOSDRA’s records.
However, a drill down on NOSDRA’s data revealed that the regulatory agencies performed a post-cleanup review of only 693 of the 1188 claims of completed cleanups by the companies, with 475 reported claims of cleanups yet to be inspected.
In addition, out of the 693 spill cases inspected for cleanup completion, 150 certificates of completion of cleanup were issued to oil companies, to indicate the companies have duly completed the cleanup.
Thus, the regulatory agencies certified that only 150 out of the total 3177 cases of oil spillage were actually cleaned completely.
The failure of the oil companies to clean up this many volumes of oil spillage endangers human lives, degrades land and marine habitat, and causes immense ecological and economic losses. It also points to a seriously flawed regulatory oversight from the government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring oil spill cleanups in Nigeria.
More so, the failure to clean up oil spills in an adequate and timely manner results in long-term contamination of land and water resources, and comes with “human rights consequences on people’s health and ability to access food and clean water.”, notes Osai Ojigho, Executive Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
NOSDRA’s Regulatory Failures
The rate at which oil-producing and exploration companies comply with oil spill cleanup casts doubt on NOSDRA’s ability “to establish, nurture, and sustain a zero-tolerance policy for oil spill incidents in the Nigerian environment,” as promoted in the agency’s vision statement.
Another concern is how much effort NOSDRA and other environmental regulatory agencies are putting in to ensure that oil-producing and exploration companies follow environmental regulations.
According to the NOSDRA, there are currently no legally binding regulatory penalties or fines in Nigeria for oil spills.
Now, oil companies are required to fund the cleanup of each spill and, in most cases, to compensate affected local communities if the company caused the spill.
The fact that NOSDRA inspected only 693 of the 1188 instances where companies claimed they cleaned up spills calls to question the agency’s commitments to restoring and preserving the environment by ensuring best oil sector practices.
A review of the process of reporting and cleaning up oil spills in Nigeria revealed that there are no strict regulations in place to ensure cleanup.
The reporting and cleanup of an oil spill conclude with the completion and submission of form C.
According to the information gleaned from the NOSDRA’s oil spill monitor website, “When further cleanup efforts by the oil companies or their contractors is deemed complete, the oil company should contact the government regulator with a report on their cleanup operations (FORM C – enshrined in Nigerian law).”
NOSDRA’s dependent relationship with Oil Companies
Speaking to the adequacy of NOSDRA in restoring and preserving the environment by ensuring best oil sector practices, Ken Henshaw, Executive Director of the Center for Social Studies and Development (CSSD), stated over the phone that “the provisions of NOSDRA are inadequate and, as a result, serve no purpose in respect to the people and the environment.”
He went on to say, “NOSDRA is incapacitated, and by incapacitated, I mean that NOSDRA does not have any facility required or needed for it to carry out its responsibilities adequately.”
According to Mr Henshaw, “if an oil spill occurs in a location that requires a speed boat or helicopter, NOSDRA does not have any speed boat or helicopter, and, thus, cannot visit such sites.”
“NOSDRA only has Hilux,” he continued. “It is the oil companies who are responsible for forming the joint committee and transporting NOSDRA personnel to the site of the spill. Therefore, NOSDRA is almost exclusively reliant on oil companies.”
“And when the oil companies say, ‘Sorry, we can’t go to the field today,’ they (NOSDRA) don’t go.”
He concluded, “This illicit relationship between NOSDRA and the oil companies is deliberately skewed against the oil community, and as a government agency, NOSDRA serves more the interests of oil companies than the interests of the Nigerian people.”
NOSDRA itself laments its inability to ensure adequate cleanup of oil spills without the help of the oil companies.
“NOSDRA relies on the voluntary participation and support of oil companies to provide data, logistics, quantity estimates, soil/water samples, and to carry out cleanup operations, the agency confessed.
Effect of uncleaned oil spill on the environment
Oil spillages impact the soil, surface water, farmlands, and vegetation within and outside the companies’ right of way.
In his article, “Environmental Impacts of Oil Exploration and Exploitation in the Niger Delta of Nigeria,” Kadafa Ayuba observes that vast areas of the Niger delta’s waterways and mangrove swamps, which comprise one of the region’s most diverse ecosystems, have been destroyed or put at risk by oil spillage. He also believes that farmlands have been cloaked with oil, contaminating crops and exposing them to pollution.
“After nine years of promises without proper action and decades of pollution, the people of Ogoniland (an oil-producing community in Rivers State) are not only sick of dirty drinking water, oil-contaminated fish, and toxic fumes, they’re sick of waiting for justice and dying by the day,” said Godwin Ojo, an Environmental Rights Action campaigner with Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
In 2011, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report that documented the devastating impact of the oil industry in Ogoniland and made urgent cleanup recommendations. However, the UNEP’s emergency measures have not been appropriately implemented.
According to a report by Amnesty International, “work has begun on only 11% of the polluted sites identified by UNEP, with only a further 5% included in current clean-up efforts, and no site has been completely cleaned up.”
The report also mentions some conflicts of interest in the federal government’s Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to clean up the Ogoni land spill. One of such conflicts of interest is Shell’s membership in the Board set up by the federal government for the Ogoni cleanups, with the company even going so far as to place its personnel in HYPREP.
Efforts to reposition NOSDRA to effectively function as an independent oil spill detection, recording, and management agency will go a long way toward restoring and preserving our environment by ensuring the best oil sector practices across the oil field, storage, exploration, production, and transportation value chain.
Oil exploration presents huge revenue potential for the country. However, oil wealth may not translate to sustainable development if regulations on environmental protection are jettisoned by industry players or if regulatory agencies look away from acts of injustice to the natural habitats and human health.