- Category: GENERAL
- Published on Thursday, 16 August 2012 23:09
- Written by Ross Alabo-George
According to a study carried out by a team of Nigerian and international environmental experts in 2006, the Niger Delta is “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems”. They stated: “The damage from oil operations is chronic and cumulative, and has acted synergistically with other sources of environmental stress to
result in a severely impaired coastal ecosystem and compromised the livelihoods and health of the region’s impoverished residents.”
The fecklessness of the Federal Government of Nigeria on the UNEP report on Ogoniland is no doubt one of the most inexpiable sins of the current administration. On the 24th of July, 2003, just a day to the anniversary of the submission of the UNEP report, the Federal Government announced the formation of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP).
Between 1989 and 1994 Shell reported a yearly average of 221 spills involving some 7,350 barrels of oil per year. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has reported that 4,835 oil spill incidents were recorded between 1976 and 1996, with a loss of 1.8 million barrels of oil to the environment. These data are based mainly on what companies report to the DPR, and it has been proven time and again that these figures as terrible as they are, have still been heavily doctored by these oil companies. According to UNDP, more than 6,800 spills were recorded between 1976 and 2001, with a loss of approximately 3 million barrels of oil. In 2006, a group of experts told Amnesty International that at least 13 million barrels of crude have been spilled in the last 50 years.
UNEP was commissioned in 2009 to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the environmental disaster in Ogoni land – a severely battered area of the Niger Delta. UNEP completed the assessment and submitted a report two years later on August 4, 2011. On receiving the report, the president immediately set up a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC) jointly headed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Minister of Environment (even though the Minister of Environment was clearly passive in that designation) to study the report and advice the Federal Government of the best pathway.
The HYPREP in my definition is the proposal for the implementation of the actionable components of the UNEP report using the Ogoni benchmark for the over 2000 polluted sites (as identified by NOSDRA) in the Region. It is a proposal as yet because for one year, all the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources has achieved is a conceptual framework of the ‘project’.
The first issue with HYPREP is the name – Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project. The change of scope of the clean up intervention from an Ogoniland clean up to the cleanup of all polluted areas in the Niger Delta makes the name a joke. Such a colossal task as the HYPREP- without easily defined, tangible and measurable outputs cannot in environmental programming be described as a ‘project’ – it is definitely a program. Therefore, it is expedient to rename the initiative as the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Program. A program is a portfolio comprised of multiple projects that are managed and coordinated as one unit with the objective of achieving (often intangible) outcomes and benefits.
The second issue is that of strategic program management. Environmental action groups have questioned the rationale behind the appointment of the Minister of Petroleum (Chairman of the board of NNPC) to the PIC and now ‘project’ owners of HYPREP. The PIC was set up by the president to study and advice on the UNEP report which clearly indicted the NNPC/Shell Petroleum Development Company (JV operators in Ogoniland). The clear sidelining of the Ministry of Environment and suppression of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) is a clear indication of that the oil majors are in charge.
HYPREP is modelled after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund of the USA. Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. It is also the name of the fund established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended. It allows the EPA to clean up such sites and to compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups.
In the USA, under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the owner or operator of a facility from which oil is discharged (also known as the responsible Party) is liable for the costs associated with the containment or cleanup of the spill and any damages resulting from the spill. The EPA's first priority is to ensure that responsible parties pay to clean up their own oil releases. However, when the responsible party is unknown or refuses to pay, funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund can be used to cover removal costs or damages resulting from discharges of oil.
A key provision of the US Oil Spill Act (s1004) states that “...Responsible parties at onshore facilities and deepwater ports are liable for up to $350 million per spill; holders of leases or permits for offshore facilities, except deepwater ports, are liable for up to $75 million per spill, plus removal costs. The Federal government has the authority to adjust, by regulation, the $350 million liability limit established for onshore facilities.”
Therefore, I am careful to submit that the $5billion fine recently slammed on Shell by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) is not only expedient, but unjustly inadequate. However, Shell, known for their daring arrogance in Nigeria will not pay. They have already challenged the verdict of NOSDRA, perhaps quite correctly citing that the huge fine slammed on them, is not backed by any Nigerian law.
Senator Bukola Saraki, Chairman Senate Committee on Ecology and Environment, must be commended for his foresight in pushing a bill in the National Assembly for the amendment of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (Establishment) Act 2006. This singular bill drafted by Senator Bukola Saraki, for me, is more potent than the entire Petroleum Industry Bill recently forwarded to the National Assembly by this administration. Senator Saraki is seeking the re-designation of the agency as ‘National Oil Pollution Management Agency. Modelling his bill after the US Oil Spill Act of 1990, the bill seeks the establishment of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, just like it is in the US.
Part of the bill reads “There is established an agency to be known as the National Oil Pollution Management Agency (in this Act referred to as the agency)” with the responsibility to prevent, detect, minimize and respond to all oil spillages and pollution as well as gas flaring and leakages and other hazardous and obnoxious substances in the petroleum sector, coordinate private sector participation in oil pollution management, have access to the ‘Oil Spillage Liability Trust Fund’ as set up by law.”
The systematic amputation of NOSDRA has been carefully designed by the OPTS and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources. This orchestration began immediately President Olusegun Obasanjo revealed the idea of setting up an oil spill response agency, and transferring the mandate of oil spill detection and response from NNPC to a new independent organization. The OPTS lobbied to have a strong representation in the drafting committee of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, as usual they had their way. They drafted a plan that significantly weakened the proposed organization, stealthily still, empowering the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources with key roles in the new plan, and in the process giving birth to a NOSDRA defective on delivery. An agency that under the present act derived from the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, will never be able to effectively check the recklessness of these very corrupt multinational companies; severely underfunded and anaemic.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration is the historic oil output of 2.7m barrels engendered by the unprecedented success of the Presidential Amnesty Program. The success of the Amnesty Program has little to do with funding; it has more to with leadership and a robust understanding of the process and deliverables. Therefore, the success of HYPREP will depend on the right leadership.
It is no longer confidential that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources has tipped a certain Mrs. Joi Nunieh-Okunnu, an Ogoni native, a lawyer turned politician; Member of the Board of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and wife of Prof. Olusegun Okunnu (Board Member of NNPC), to direct the affairs of HYPREP. I have nothing personal against Mrs. Nunieh-Okunnu; she is a good politician, but clearly, she is technically inadequate and lacks the required latitude to direct the HYPREP program.
This program can only be driven by a tested and seasoned environmental Czar working with a strong team supported by the UNEP and NOSDRA. There is nowhere in the World where the coordination of scientific environmental programs is placed in the hands of politicians.
Stakeholder cooperation and participation is also a key success factor. MOSOP has lost its bite. The insincerity of the present crop of Ogoni political elites; the disunity in MOSOP; the scramble for political appointments; the manipulations of the Rivers State Government; and their inability to mobilize their base will definitely pose a major challenge to the smooth take-off of HYPREP in Ogoniland. Unlike many other oil producing areas in the Region, the Ogonis are very politically conscious and will resist the Federal Government to a standstill if the leaders of MOSOP compromise the legitimate demands of the people.
Already the MOSOP leadership has in a press release endorsed the HYPREP initiative declaring that “The Ogoni people must be given first priority in the business and jobs”. Who are these people that will get the jobs – politicians? No wonder the same politicians are sponsoring protests, media blitz and a sterile declaration of independence.
Except some legislator ‘springs a surprise’ (borrowed from Farouk Lawan) in the National Assembly, or a miracle happens, HYPREP will stir a wild debate in the National Assembly. The proposed program will be dragged on the low –road of politics by baseless propaganda and acerbic criticisms. I expect that there would be a special report on Daily Trust newspapers lumping the billions of naira to be spent on the cleanup program as part of funds allocated to the development Region by the president, just as the extreme mob opposition have in fact lumped funds released for the execution of the Presidential Amnesty Program to that allocated to infrastructural development in the Niger Delta Region. Their sole aim is paint the president as partial and lavish on ‘his people’, while denying the North critically needed funds – they will tag it a ‘Niger Delta Agenda’. There will be an attempt on the floor of the Senate to tie the funding of HYPREP to the PIB provisions of royalties to host communities and the on-going Presidential Amnesty Program.
For the people of the Niger Delta, environmental quality and sustainability are fundamental to their overall well-being and development. More than 60 per cent of the people in the region depend on the natural environment for their livelihood. For many, the environmental resource base, which they use for agriculture, fishing and the collection of forest products, is their principal or sole source of food. Pollution and environmental damage, therefore, pose significant risks to the fragile peace in the Region and its overall stability.
Ross Alabo-George is a geosystems consultant based in Port Harcourt