Pita Ochai

Bayelsa, Nigerian’s oil-rich state, is set to tackle multinational oil companies operating in the region who have polluted its environment through oil spills. The state government recently started an inquiry into the human and environmental impact of spills caused by multinational businesses operating in the region, opening a potential new conflict with companies that pump the bulk of the nation’s crude.

The Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission in charge of the inquiry is headed by the British Archbishop of New York, John Sentamu. This is the first time such an investigation will be launched by a Nigerian oil-producing state, indicating concerns about rising environmental pollution in a region that is vital to the nation’s economy.

“The Commission’s aim is for oil companies to agree to a global standard of behaviour, conducting their operations in Bayelsa as they would in Norway, Scotland or the USA,” the commission said in a statement.

Companies operating in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger River delta region spill about 40 million litres of oil a year, according to the commission. A 2011 report by the United Nations Environment Programme on oil pollution in Ogoniland in Rivers State concluded that the soils and groundwater in the community have been so contaminated by more than 50 years of oil spills that it would take up to 30 years to reverse the damage.

The commission will visit oil-spill sites from March 27-29 to take testimonies from affected residents. It will publish a report of its findings later this year and make recommendations that will lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability for oil companies operating in the state.

International oil companies operating in Nigeria include Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Total SA.

Just last year, a massive oil spillage from Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC pipeline was reported in Aghoro communities in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. According to the leadership of the communities and field monitors from the Environmental Rights Action, ERA, the spill which occurred along the 24-inch Trans-Ramos pipeline of SPDC affected Aghoro communities and neighbouring communities in Bayelsa and Delta states. Lamenting the adverse effect of the spillage, Secretary to the Community Development Committee, CDC, of Aghoro 2, Justin Gbagbiri said: “This oil spill happened on May 17, 2018, the river is one of our major sources of drinking, but since this spillage occurred, we cannot use the river anymore, and the spill has affected most of our activities here.”

Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson disclosed that the Niger Delta region is recording not less than 40 million litres oil spill annually compared with 4 million litres annually being recorded in the United States.

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