Deadly Oil Spillage: Aiteo’s Two week delay and need for Sanctions – OLOMSUPER

For over two weeks, the people of Nembe, a coastal area in oil-rich Bayelsa state, suffered yet another disaster — one that threatened the livelihood of over 130,000 residents.

Over the years, oil spillages have destroyed their environment, aquatic life, as well as air and water pollution but this time, it was worse with far-reaching implications.

A wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field had blown on November 5th and spewed oil into water areas for twenty days.

Although the oil well, OML 29, is jointly owned by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), AEEPCO is directly responsible for activities and management of the well.

The Nembe incident was worsened by the 20-day delay by the management of AEEPCO as they were expected to take proactive measures. Instead, the company blamed the incident on activities of saboteurs, adding that it was mobilising technical expertise both locally and internationally to contain the spill.

To emphasise the carefree attitude of the oil well operator, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) rebuked the company for its poor response to the November 5 spill. The group stated that it was wrong for Aiteo to link the wellhead leak within its oil bloc in the Nembe creeks when a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) had not been conducted on the incident.

The socio-cultural group also faulted Aiteo’s position on sabotage, saying it could jeopardise the outcome of the JIV yet to be carried out as crude is still leaking from the facility.

“First and foremost, we want to express our dismay over the position of Aiteo that the oil spill was caused by sabotage. The INC considers this position as prejudicial and pre-emptive, and it is unacceptable,” said the group’s spokesperson.

Although the federal government had ordered immediate closure of Aiteo’s operations at Santa Barbara in Nembe, there is need to sanction the company for such an environmental disaster.

Oil spill effects on environments and habitats can be catastrophic as they can kill plants and animals, disturb salinity, pollute air/water, etc. These translate into discomfort for the people who are predominantly fishermen, traders and farmers.

Beyond the environmental effects of oil spills, on a larger scale, the country has continued to lose a fortune.

Between 2015 and 2018, Nigeria lost approximately 4.75 trillion as estimated by the Nigeria Natural Resources Charter. Mohammad Abubakar, Minister of Environment, in July, disclosed that Nigeria recorded 4,919 oil spills between 2015 to March 2021 and lost 4.5 trillion barrels of oil to theft in four years.

Several statistics have emphasised Nigeria as the most notorious country in the world for oil spills, losing roughly 400,000 barrels per day.

Also, Andrew Oru, Director of Asset production at Aiteo said the affected well has about 85% gas and about 15% crude. This is a colossal loss coming at a time when the price of cooking gas has skyrocketed beyond what the hoi polloi could afford.

The Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, has disclosed that the federal government is considering stricter sanctions for companies involved in oil spillage in the Niger Delta. She also explained that her ministry was engaging other relevant government agencies to achieve this.

Ikeazor said the Ministry of Environment was working to amend the law establishing the National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency to build its capacity and give it ‘the needed teeth to bite’.

However, it is imperative that rather than engage in rhetorics and procedural consultations, the government should swing into action and make companies pay heavily for their negligence.

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