Benjamin Babine, Abuja
Stakeholders in the oil and gas sector have called for the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Amendment Bill to ensure that oil spill defaulters get stiffer penalties and take timely responsibilities in their areas of operation.
During a Webinar with the theme “NOSDRA Amendment Bill – Reducing Environmental Degradation through Improved Oil Spill Response,” stakeholders called for the speedy passage of the Amended Bill recalling that the 8th National Assembly had passed the NOSDRA Amendment bill but President Buhari had withheld assent to it.
The Webinar which was organised by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) hosted participants who stressed that the NOSDRA Amendment bill should ensure that the agency is well equipped to tackle all tiers of oil spillages in the Nigerian environment in line with global best practices.
In her speech, Tengi George-Ikoli of the NNRC noted that there has always been huge negative impacts of oil exploitation on the Niger Delta region, saying that it has given rise to intense land degradation, rapid agricultural decline, fisheries depletion, rampant and destructive oil spillages, continuous gas flaring and toxic water contamination among others.
She said NOSDRA was set up to address some of the grave consequences of oil exploitation, mandated to respond to oil spills, is currently hampered by an almost debilitating lack of capacity.
“There is currently poor response to oil spills because of NOSDRA’s lack of capacity. These capacity gaps are NOT due to a lack of expertise but instead lack of funding and punitive powers.
“In April 2010, the entire world watched in awe as the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on BP’s Deep-water Horizon drilling rig unfolded. The seriousness of the issue was underlined with the numerous visits of the former United States President, Barack Obama and Congressmen to the spill sites.
“In less than two months after the spill, the American government was able to extract a huge sum of $20 billion from the spiller to mitigate the immediate impact of the spill on the environment. However, there were spirited efforts to clean the environment and stronger indications that the $20 billion may only be a preliminary appeasement. What would be and what has been the computation of the penalties for similar spills in Nigeria? Will NOSDRA be able to address similar large scale spills effectively? By now, we must see the importance of this conversation and the need to strengthen NOSDRA,” she said.
In his presentation, Dr Kabari Simeon Sam, a lecturer at the Nigeria Maritime University, Delta state, said the reasons the President declined assent were primarily because of perceived reduced powers of the Petroleum Minister and extra economic burden on the oil sector.
He said another concern is that the Bill imposes a new charge on the industry of 0.5% of operation funds of oil companies for the enforcement of environmental legislations in the petroleum sector.
He highlighted that the Amendment Bill is important because “we need a NOSDRA which functions as an environmental regulator in the issuance of guidelines and standards and is able to address all manner of spills.
“At the moment, NOSDRA can only detect oil spills but cannot respond due to lack of powers to respond to Tier 3 spills and the dependence on oil companies for logistics. Other factors to consider in the Amendment Bill are the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables, discovery of commercial quantity of oil in other regions of the country as well as COVID-19 and dwindling oil prices.”
The DG of NOSDRA, Idris Olubola Musa said it is the hope of the agency that the amended Bill get accelerated passage. He also said the current penalty for spillages is very poor.
He said the mandate of the agency is to ensure that oil is produced in Nigeria without degrading the environment.