Benjamin Babine, Abuja
As the number of current oil spills in the Niger Delta rises above the 2000 mark, there is growing concern among some experts in the oil industry about the country’s current lack of capacity to tackle certain categories of oil spills.
Speaking at a webinar organized to discuss the delayed passage of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Bill, experts lamented the country’s lack of capacity to manage and mitigate the environmental impact of such events against the background of the escalating number of spills in the Niger Delta.
The major spill lamented over was Tier 3 spills, which is the highest and most serious stage of the three-tier system put in place by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA).
They called for the urgent passage of the NOSDRA Bill because the lack of a fully empowered agency to manage oil spills is the major cause of the environmental damage that has defined the operations of the industry since the first oil find at Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1958.
The theme of the event in which over seventy media and civil society representatives from across the country participated was “National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Amendment Bill (2018): Framing Pathways to Presidential Assent”.
Dr Tubodenyefa Zibima of the Political Science of Niger Delta University who made a presentation on “Addressing the President’s concerns on the NOSDRA Amendment Bill”, described the delay in passing the NOSDRA Bill as against the country’s interests and efforts towards achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This calls for an urgent need to build the capacity of the oil spill regulatory agency to mitigate the environmental and economic impact of spills.
‘Anything can happen any time. As such we should be prepared. If a major Tier 3 Spill happens now, we will be naked because we lack the legal and institutional capacity to respond and handle them. We have enough environmental challenges in the Niger Delta right now. We don’t need anymore.’
Speaking in the same vein, Dr Sam Kabari of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), described the delay in passing the NOSDRA Bill which gives the agency powers to handle Tier 3 and other complex spills as a large gap that urgently needs to be filled before the country gets involved in a major international environmental incident.
The Covener of the webinar, Father Edward Obi, captured the grim possibility in graphic words: ‘If, for any reason, such a spill occurs from major pipelines beneath the sea, or any of our numerous floating storage facilities (FPSOs), the oil could cause damage in the Camerounian coastline, in Sao Tome and Principe, or even the West African Coastline. This could result in lawsuits that would impact our economy very negatively.’
Tier 3 spills are massive spill events that require large scale interventions and often international assistance such as the Exxon-Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska, an environmental disaster that occurred in March, 1989 and led to the disgorging of about 42 million litres (over 6 million barrels) in one day.