Oil spill from the Shell pipeline pollutes farms and a river in a long-polluted part of Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria – A new oil spill at a Shell facility in Nigeria has contaminated farmland and a river, and upended the livelihoods of fishing and farming communities in a part of the Niger Delta long suffering from pollution from the oil industry.

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) told The Associated Press that the spill originated from the Shell-operated Trans-Niger Pipeline, which runs through communities in the Eleme area of ​​Ogoniland, a region where the in The London-based energy giant has experienced decades of local oil exploration setbacks.

The amount of the spilled oil has not been determined, but activists have released images of polluted farmland, water surfaces contaminated with oil sheen and dead fish submerged in sticky crude oil.

While oil spills are common in the region due to vandalism by oil thieves and lack of pipeline maintenance, activists say the situation is “severe” according to the UN Environment Programme.

It was “one of the worst in Ogoniland in 16 years,” said Fyneface Dumnamene, an environmental activist whose nonprofit monitors the spills in the delta region. It started on June 11th.

“It lasted over a week, spilling into the Okulu River – which borders other rivers and eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean – affecting several communities and displacing more than 300 fishermen,” said Dumnamene of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.

He said the tides had sent the oil sheen about 10 kilometers (6 miles) further to streams near the country’s oil capital, Port Harcourt.

Shell shut down production in Ogoniland more than 20 years ago due to deadly riots by local residents protesting environmental damage, but the Trans-Niger Pipeline still transports crude oil from oil fields in other areas through the region’s communities to export terminals.

The leak has been contained, but treatment of the aftermath of the spill on farms and in the Okulu River, which flows through communities, has stalled, said NOSDRA Director-General Idris Musa.

“The response has been delayed,” Musa said, blaming protesting residents. “But the commitment continues.”

The apparent deadlock stems from distrust and past abuses in the Niger Delta river and oil region, which is predominantly populated by ethnic minorities who accuse the Nigerian government of marginalization.

Africa’s largest economy depends largely on the Niger Delta’s oil resources for its revenues, but the pollution from that production has denied residents access to clean water, hampered agriculture and fisheries and increased the risk of violence, activists say.

Communities “are very upset at the destruction of their livelihoods caused by the obsolescence of Shell equipment and fear the regulator and Shell will blame sabotage by residents,” Dumnamene said.

Oil companies often blame oil spills on pipeline vandalism by oil thieves or harmed young people in affected communities, which could evade the companies liability.

London-based Shell said it was working with a joint investigative team made up of regulators, Ogoniland residents and local authorities to determine the cause and impact of the oil spill.

Shell’s response team “has been activated, subject to safety requirements, to mobilize on the ground and take action that may be necessary to keep the environment, people and equipment safe,” the company said in a statement.

NOSDRA confirmed the joint investigation, but a cause for the leak – whether sabotage or equipment failure – has not yet been announced.

Hundreds of farmers and fishermen cut off from their livelihoods would insist on environmental restoration and then compensation, Dumnamene said.

At the request of the Nigerian government, the UN Environment Program conducted an independent environmental assessment of Ogoniland and released a report in 2011 criticizing Shell and the Nigerian government for 50 years of pollution and recommending a major, multi-billion dollar clean-up.

Although the government announced the cleanup in 2016, there is little evidence of recovery on the ground. The government says community protests and lawsuits by local activists have hampered progress.

“A credible cleanup action would have been a glimmer of hope for the Niger Delta and other areas of Africa that have suffered from oil pollution, but there is no credible cleanup action,” said Ledum Mitee, a veteran Ogoni environmental activist and former president of the Ogoni Survival Movement -people. “It’s a cover-up and we’re not seeing any repercussions.”


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