Stories by Adewale Sanyaolu
When reports filtered in last September, that Swiss trading firms – Trafigura and Vitol – were exploiting weak regulations in Africa to import “dirty fuels” into Africa, including Nigeria, many dismissed it as impossible considering the many government agencies that are present at the ports.
But today, the story seems different as five countries in West Africa have decided to stop importing “dirty fuels” from Europe, the UN Environment Programme has said. Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have all agreed on the import ban.
Daily Sun had in September reported the findings by Swiss watchdog group, Public Eye, with the title, “Dirty Diesel’’ which had alleged that the Swiss trading firms are blending and dumping dirty fuel in Nigeria and other West African countries with more than 100 per cent toxic (sulphur) levels allowed in Europe, thereby causing health and environmental hazards.
Why the ban?
The UN says the move will help more than 250 million people breathe safer and cleaner air because the sulphur particles emitted by a diesel engine are considered to be a major contributor to air pollution and are ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the top global health risks associated with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems.
Head of UNEP, Erik Solheim, hailed the import ban
In a statement, the UN Environment Programme said the five West African countries, in addition to banning the import of dirty fuels, have also agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries.
The upgrade, which will concern both public and privately owned refineries, is meant to boost standards in the oil produced in the five countries.
The report into Europe oil exports released in September particularly criticised the Swiss for their links to the African trade in diesel that has toxin levels illegal in Europe.
“West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. Their decision to set strict new standards for cleaner, safer fuels and advanced vehicle emission standards shows they are placing the health of their people first,” he added.
Despite the denial by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in September, that it was impossible to have toxic fuel in circulation in Nigeria, the commitment of the Federal Government to ban the toxic fuel from entering the country has proved critics, including DPR, wrong.
Deputy Director, Public Affairs in DPR, Dorothy Bassey, had told Daily Sun in a telephone interview that there was no cause for alarm as all petroleum products are tested before entering the shores of the country. According to her, any product or products that fail the specification test are sent back to the country of origin.
“But if by error of omission or commission any product(s) that fall short of the required specification find their way into the country, the importer of such products will be severely sanctioned,’’ she said. But Nigerians are yet to see such sanctions on the Swiss importers.
But Environment Minister, Amina Mohamed, said: “For 20 years, Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing. Today, we are taking a huge leap forward – limiting sulphur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million.”
She said the move would result in major air quality benefits in Nigerian cities and would allow the country to set modern vehicle standards.
The WHO says that pollution is particularly bad in low and middle-income countries.
Approved sulphur level in Nigeria
But contrary to the claims by Public Eye that Nigeria allows up to 3,000 ppm of sulphur in petrol, Daily Sun investigations proved opposite.
According to a 39-page document exclusively obtained by Daily Sun, on standard for Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), Nigeria Industrial Standard NIS 116:2008 approved by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Governing Council in 2008, pegged the maximum sulfur content at 0.10 ppm, the same standard allowed in Europe.
According to SON, the purpose of the review of the standard is to provide specifications and test methods for the manufacturers, importers and users of unleaded petrol marketed in Nigeria.
Swiss firms put up defense
But the Swiss commodity traders – Trafigura and Vitol – accused of deliberately blending toxic fuel and dumping it in Nigeria and other West African countries say African governments are to blame for low standards and failure to invest in refineries and newer vehicles to lower exhaust emissions that cause respiratory and other diseases.
“What is very clear is that the role of improving fuel quality in Africa clearly rests with African governments, not with the fuel suppliers,” the Geneva-based African Refiners Association representing many traders said in a letter obtained by the Associated Press (AP).
Public Eye said traders including Vitol and Trafigura provide Europe with fuel meeting European Union standards of 10 parts per million of sulfur while creating what’s called “African Quality” fuel that has 2,000 ppm or more of sulfur. Nigeria, for example, allows up to 3,000 ppm of sulphur in petrol according to Public Eye.
Rob de Jong from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) had told the BBC that there was a lack of awareness among some policy makers about the significance of the sulphur content in fuels.
Jong said the picture is changing but that there are still several African countries that allow petrol to have a sulphur content of more than 2,000 parts per million (ppm), with some allowing more than 5,000ppm, whereas the European standard is less than 10ppm.
He argued that for a long time countries relied on colonial-era standards, which have only been revised in recent years.
‘‘Another issue is that in the countries where there are refineries, these are unable, for technical reasons, to reduce the sulphur levels to the standard acceptable in Europe. This means that the regulatory standard is kept at the level that the refineries can operate at.
Some governments are also worried that cleaner diesel would be more expensive, therefore, pushing up the price of transport,’’ he said.
But Jong argued that the difference was minimal and oil price fluctuations were much more significant in determining the diesel price.
Head of UNEP, Erik Solheim, said, “West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. They are placing the health of their people first.
“Air pollution is killing millions of people every year and we need to ensure that all countries urgently introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles to help reduce the shocking statistics,” Solheim added in a statement released last Monday.
According to UNEP, a combination of low-sulphur fuels and advanced vehicles emissions standards can reduce harmful emissions by up to 90 percent, according to the UNEP.
Local Content: NCDMB, NIMASA set up committee on overlapping functions
To ensure that operators do not pitch the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) against each other in the discharge of their statutory responsibilities, both agencies have set up a joint committee to harmonise all areas of overlapping functions.
The move will ensure that Nigerians take full advantage of opportunities available in the marine services sector of the oil and gas industry.
The joint committee is also expected to come up with modalities to achieve the objective of capital retention and in-country value addition in the marine sector of the oil and gas industry.
The committee was inaugurated by the Executive Secretary of NCDMB, Mr. Simbi Wabote, and the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who was represented by the Executive Director, Administration and Finance, Alhalji Jimoh Bashir.
Section 105 of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act (2010) states that “NCDMB, in conjunction with NIMASA, shall have powers to enforce compliance with relevant sections of the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act (Cabotage Act) in relation to matters pertaining to Nigerian Content Development.”
The NOGICD Act also provides for first consideration for Nigerian goods and services, and stipulates targets from 45 per cent spend on supply vessels to as much as 90 per cent spend for supply of very large crude carriers and towing of oil and gas infrastructure.
Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary affirmed that the joint committee will ensure that operators in the sector will be unable to play one agency against the other and get away with non-compliance.
He stressed that Nigerians can only benefit from opportunities in the sector if regulatory agencies like NCDMB and NIMASA discharge their statutory functions effectively.
Some of the opportunities for Nigerians in the marine sector include vessel building, maintenance, manning, support services like insurance, legal, catering among others.
Speaking further, Wabote listed focus of the committee to include defining appropriate documentation that will ascertain ownership of vessel and authentication of NIMASA vessel ownership documentation. The committee will also examine the effect of Temporary Import Permit on marine vessel ownership and come up with strategies that will encourage collaboration on promotion of investment in vessel construction, repairs and maintenance capability. Other subjects include maritime training, sea- time and certification for Nigerians and proliferation of expatriate crew on vessels working in Nigeria.
Earlier in his welcome address, Peterside, recalled that the collaboration between the agencies predated the passage of the Nigerian Content Act, borne out of the realization that much could not be achieved in both sectors without collaboration.
The NIMASA DG underlined the significance of the Maritime and Oil and Gas Industry to the Nigerian Economy, stating that the need for collaboration is to forge a common front with a view to enforcing Local Content obligations.
“The bedrock of our collaboration with NCDMB is to close all gaps and loopholes that may be exploited to weaken the efforts of Government by operators. We believe that with this inter-Agency collaboration we will put the Local capacity in place to achieve desired levels of value retention especially in the wake of anticipated investment opportunities,” he added.
The NIMASA DG also listed focus areas for the committee to include drawing up modalities for a harmonized standard for categorization of marine vessel providers and other services and articulating manpower development framework involving NIMASA, NCDMB, PTDF, international oil companies, shipping companies and Nigeria’s top academic training institutions especially in the areas of seafarers training, mandatory Sea-time opportunity for cadets, international certification, and skills pool model.
He also charged the committee to articulate a strategy for capacity building in terms of Ship Building, Repairs and Dry-Docking facilities and vessel survey and certification, training equipment and infrastructure and articulate strategies for development of fiscal and other incentives for Nigerian operators.
SPDC supports geology studies at OAU
As part of efforts to uplift research and study of geosciences, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) Joint Venture has donated modern geophysical equipment, accessories and books to the Department of Geology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
“In 2014, we donated equipment worth nearly N50 million to the Geology Department of this institution. The equipment has since been in use and their quality assured. In addition to the equipment, we are now donating geophysics textbooks to ensure quality learning,” the Managing Director, SPDC, and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Osagie Okunbor, said during the commissioning ceremony at the university.
Acting Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Anthony Elujoba, thanked SPDC for a long-standing support that has taken the university to greater heights and pledged the department’s commitment to put the donations to good use for the improvement of academic development and contribution to the nation’s economy.
The geophysical equipment are suitable for various applications such as geological mapping, environmental studies, groundwater prospecting and mineral exploration as well as geotechnical investigations.
The SPDC JV collaboration with the Obafemi Awolowo University began in 1992 when it was chosen as one of the first five universities for the endowment of professorial chairs in Nigeria.
There are currently seven of such SPDC JV chairs in Nigerian universities and two Centres of Excellence in Geophysics and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Benin and Marine Engineering at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, respectively.
Shell Companies in Nigeria have a long history of scholarships, research internship, sabbaticals, ICT infrastructure support and technological development initiatives.
In 2015, SPDC JV and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo.) alone invested the sum of $10.1 million in scholarships. A total of 3,532 grants were awarded to universities over the last five years.