A recent oil spill at a Shell facility in Nigeria has polluted farmland and a river, upending the livelihoods of fishing and farming communities in the Niger Delta, which have long suffered from environmental pollution caused by the oil industry.
The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, or NOSDRA, told The Associated Press that the spill came from the Trans-Niger Pipeline operated by Shell that will cross communities in the Eleme area of Ogoniland, a region where the energy giant is based. in London has faced decades of local pushback for its oil exploration.
The amount of oil spilled has not yet been determined, but activists have published images of dirty fields and oil-stained waterways and dead fish buried in sticky crude.
While spills are frequent in the region due to vandalism and lack of maintenance of pipelines, according to the UN Environmental Programme, activists call it a “major one”.
This is “one of the worst in the last 16 years in Ogoniland,” said Fyneface Dumnamene, an environmental activist whose nonprofit monitors spills in the Delta region. It started on June 11.
“It lasted for more than a week, spilled into the Okulu River — which is adjacent to other rivers and eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean — and affected several communities and displaced more than 300 fishermen,” said Dumnamene at the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Center.
He said the floods sent the oil about 10km (6 miles) further into rivers near the country’s oil business capital, Port Harcourt.
Shell halted production in Ogoniland more than 20 years ago amid deadly unrest from residents protesting environmental damage, but the Trans-Niger Pipeline still sends crude from oil fields elsewhere through regional communities to export terminals.
The leak has been contained, but the treatment of those who fell from spilled fields and the Okulu River, which runs through the communities, has stopped, NOSDRA Director-General Idris Musa said.
“The response was delayed,” Musa said, blaming the protesting residents. “But the engagement continues.”
The apparent deadlock stems from mistrust and past grievances in the river and oil-rich Niger Delta region, which is mostly home to minority ethnic groups who accuse the Nigerian government of marginalization.
Africa’s largest economy relies on the Niger Delta’s oil resources for its income, but pollution from production denies residents access to clean water, harms farming and fishing and raises the risk of violence, it said. of activists.
In 2020 and 2021, NOSDRA recorded a combined total of 822 oil spills, resulting in 28,003 barrels spilling into the environment.
The communities “are very angry because of the destruction of their livelihoods as a result of Shell’s outdated equipment and are worried that the regulator and Shell will blame the residents for sabotaging them,” said Dumnamene.
Oil companies often blame aggrieved youth in affected communities for spills, which may allow them to avoid accountability.
Shell said it was working with a joint investigation team, made up of regulators, Ogoniland residents and local authorities, to determine the cause and impact of the spill.
Shell’s response team “was activated, under safety requirements, to [mobilise] on site to take actions that may be necessary for the safety of the environment, people and equipment,” said a company statement.
NOSDRA confirmed a joint investigation, but the cause of the outage has not yet been disclosed.
Hundreds of farmers and fishermen whose livelihoods have been cut off will insist on restoration of nature and then compensation, said Dumnamene.
At the request of the Nigerian government, the UN Environment Program conducted an independent environmental assessment of Ogoniland, which released a report in 2011 criticizing Shell and the Nigerian government for 50 years of pollution and recommending a comprehensive, billion-dollar cleanup.
While the government announced the cleanup in 2016, there is little evidence of land restoration. The government says community protests and lawsuits by local activists have hindered progress.
“A credible cleanup could be a beacon of hope for the Niger Delta and other areas in Africa that suffer from oil pollution, but no credible cleanup is underway,” said Ledum Mitee. , a veteran Ogoni environmental activist and former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. “It was a cover-up, and we didn’t see the impact.”