The United Nations has released a report saying that cleaning up the oil-polluted Ogoniland area of Nigeria would cost $1 billion and take over 30 years – the most wide-ranging and costly cleanup of oil pollution clean-up ever. The damage was caused by the operations of oil companies in the area over the past 50 years. The Niger Delta, the world’s third largest wetland, was once rich with biodiversity but is now one of the most oil-polluted areas on earth. The report (and the cost estimate) cover only one small area of the vast Niger Delta; the $1 billion would cover the first five years of cleanup.
Among the findings:
- Public health is seriously threatened in at least ten communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons.
- Some areas that appear unaffected on the surface are in fact severely contaminated underground, and pose a high and immediate risk to human and environmental well being,
- Scientists found an eight centimeter (three inch) layer of oil floating on groundwater (which feeds wells) linked to a spill from six years ago.
The UN Environmental Program report notes, “When an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land, making remediation or revegetation difficult. At some sites, a crust of ash and tar has been in place for several decades.” The report makes multiple recommendations for long term remediation of the land, plant and animal life, and human health, including eight emergency measures around preventing further ingestion of polluted water. The report’s recommended the formation of an “Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up with an initial capital injection of US$1 billion contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the clean-up project.”
Oil drilling ceased in the region in the 1990s as Shell was forced out of the area due to community protest over pollution and poverty. Billions of dollars worth of oil was extracted, yet the local inhabitants are worse off than before the oil operations began. Shell blames much of the current problems on illicit oil operations.
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria, said in a statement, “All oil spills are bad – bad for local communities, bad for the environment, bad for Nigeria and bad for SPDC. We clean up all spills from our facilities, whatever the cause, and restore the land to its original state.”
Amnesty International Global Issues Director Audrey Gaughran stated, “This report should also be a wake-up call to institutional investors. In the past they’ve allowed Shell’s public relations machine to pull the wool over their eyes, but they will now want to see the company cleaning up its act in the Niger Delta – that means putting real pressure on Shell to avoid spillages, compensate those already affected and disclose more accurate information on their impacts.”
UNEP conducted the assessment at the request of the Nigerian government. Some 4,000 samples were taken, and 5,000 medical records were examined; in addition, public meetings and interviews gained input from 23,000 citizens. The report was presented to that country’s president this week. The report was paid for by Shell at the request of the Nigerian government, as part of the “polluter pays” principle.
In the case of pollution as in some many others, geography is destiny. The location of a spill (or thousands of spills) makes a difference in the amount of publicity it receives. The Wall Street Journal notes, “After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP PLC says it and the U.S. government marshaled an armada of 6,000 ships and 100 aircraft to battle that oil spill. West Africa’s standing response team consists of a single small plane, based in Ghana, and a few boats.”
In this video, a fish farmer in Bodo, Nigeria describes the effects of one of the thousands of oil spills had on his small operation. Shell has accepted liability for the spill.
Image: Still from YouTube video uploaded by amnestynl