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Nembe oil spill: Ijaw group tackles Aiteo over poor response

…seeks interim $500,000 compensation for victims
We’re mobilising resources for containment –Aiteo

Following the devastating oil spill currently ravaging over 40 communities in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, members of Ijaw Diaspora Council (IDC) have come down hard on Aiteo Oil Exploration and Production Company, the oil firm in charge of OML 29, which is responsible for the ecological disaster. Currently in its third week, the spill, which started from the company’s wellhead, is said to have completely destroyed the fishing and farming communities’ source of livelihood with an uncomfirmed report that a nine-year-old girl had passed on following breathing complications from the hydrocarbon effusion.

In a letter addressed to Chief Executive Officer, Aiteo Oil Exploration and Production Company, Mr. Benedict Peters, and made available to New Telegraph from their base in Newark, New Jersey, United States, IDC made a seven- point demand including an urgent deployment of equipment to the scene to contain the spill as well as an interim compensation of $500,000 to victims in the affected communities. To drive home its seriousness, IDC has appointed an international oil spill incident expert, Professor Richard Steiner, as its Technical Advisor on the current development.

This is just as Aiteo in a statement said it was mobilising resources to the scene to contain the situation. IDC’s letter dated November 15, 2021, and jointly signed by President, Ijaw Diaspora Council, Professor Mondy Gold, Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Festus Odubo, and Director of Conflict Reso-lution, Dr. Brisibe Nabena, and titled “RE: Urgent demands from the Ijaw People in response to the major Aiteo oil spill in Nembe LGA, Bayelsa State,” and copied to Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri, and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. (Chief) Timipre Sylva, among other stakeholders, noted that from the evidence available, which is not limited to videos collected by local community members, it was estimated by international oil spill experts that the blowout had already spilled well over 100,000 barrels of toxic hydrocarbon fluids (methane and crude oil) into the productive coastal mangrove ecosystem. According to the group, “we note that this is indeed a major spill by any standards, and its effects are clearly catastrophic ecologically, economically, and socially in the coastal communities affected.

It is pertinent to state that your company knows or ought to have known that existing laws and international laws and practice, including but not limited to local laws, requires oil companies to employ best available technology to prevent such catastrophic failures of oil infrastructure and to respond immediately to stop the outflow of pollutants.

“We believe that you are aware or ought to have been aware of Global Best Practices with its inherent legal implications to immediately deploy spill containment and resources sufficient to clean up spilled oil, conduct an environmental damageassessmentof allenvironmentalinjuriescausedbya spill, and compensate affected parties.”

The council pointed out that acting on information of its members, in particular, those from Nembe LGA extraction directly affected by the Aiteo spill, it was making specific urgent demands of the company, consistent with Nigerian and international laws and Aiteo’s CSR commitments, to promptly ensure the following; plugging the blowout, as required by Nigerian law, and retaining the failed Christmas Tree structure atop the wellhead for future and independent analysis to ascertain the source of the failure; immediate deployment of sufficient oil spill containment and cleanup equipment and personnel to contain and collect as much of the spilled hydrocarbon pollutant as possible, as required by Nigeria law, and hiring as many local community members as possible.

The council described the incident as clearly a Tier III oil spill (the largest category), and that Aiteo should contract with local and international experts such as Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) in Southampton UK or other experts to conduct a large-scale Tier III spill response. It further demanded that Aiteo must provide immediate, interim response funding directed by Aiteo to the affected Ijaw people of at least $500,000 to be used by the affected people to support their initial sustenance in response to the spill. “This initial funding will in no way prejudice future claims for compensation for the spill and will allow local Ijaw people to purchase alternative food resources during the spill, as contaminated fish from the spill area cannot be consumed; purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); conduct overall response to this emergency; etc.

This Response fund is not to be directed to IDC but to the affected communities,” IDC noted. The group further said: “Aiteo must agree to support and cooperate with a technical advisor for the Ijaw communities joining the official Joint Investigation Team (JIT). “Aiteo must immediately commission an independent, scientific, environmental damage assessment by a credible, independent scientific institution. “ Aiteo must preserve all evidence, including documents, video and photographs, and actual equipment (in particular, the failed Christmas Tree structure) that may be relevant to determining the cause of the wellhead failure and spill. “Aiteo must provide the community with all records pertaining to this well, including its design and installation, any/all inspection and maintenance the company has performed on the well, any deficiencies the company has noted, all corrective/ remedial actions the company has taken on the well prior to this catastrophic spill etc.

“We believe that until something drastic is done by Aiteo to address and ameliorate immediately the sufferings of the people, it is with regret that Aiteo has added itself amongst oil companies operating in the Niger Delta that have claimed to be good corporate citizens but looked the other way when the company causes an environmental disaster. “This is a chance for your company to honor its laudable CSR commitments and obligations under Nigerian law and international law and respond to our people’s ur-gent needs, as requested above.

“Note IDC does not seek that you pay anything to it arising from this duty to inform you to act. Any matter relating to payment must be directed to the communities, not IDC. Please confirm receipt of this letter, and we look forward to your immediate response as to actions immediately taken by your company till date.” Meanwhile, Aiteo in its statement signed by its media contact, Ndiana Matthew, said the well, non-producing since Aiteo’s acquisition in 2015, was predominantly dormant, having been securely isolated since then. As hitherto stated, an accurate cause of the leak has not been ascertained as both priority and attention has been focused on containing the consequences of this most undesirable and unforeseen incident.

The statement said: “Immediately upon noticing the leak, Aiteo notified all relevant regulatory agencies and thereafter mobilized containment resources to limit impact on the environment. As required, Aiteo promptly called for a Joint Inspection Visit (JIV).

Due to the high-pressure effusion, the JIV team could not reach the location and that inspection was aborted. Since then, Aiteo has activated an elaborate and extensive spillage containment response in the internationally prescribed manner. Though spills of this nature are not uncommon to the oil and gas industry, their resolution requires expert skill and equipment that are not routinely or readily available.

“The typical process is to first kill the well and stop the leak and then focus on the clean-up. Aside urgent possible technical responses to contain the leak, Aiteo has sought, become involved with and is now in active collaboration with Clean Nigeria Associates (CNA) that have since mobilized to site, in addition to Aiteo internal resources to reinforce containment and recovery efforts. CNA is the industry non-profit umbrella body with expertise and resource to contain spills of this nature. In the meantime however, the area has been cordoned off and CNA is mobilizing additional resources to strengthen the containment effort.”

 

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