Flood Spreads Oil Spill To Neighboring Communities

Earlier in the year, precisely in the evening of 11th June,2018  a major oil spill occurred at Shell's Okordia Manifold, in Ikarama; neighbouring

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Around the Security House

Earlier in the year, precisely in the evening of 11th June,2018  a major oil spill occurred at Shell’s Okordia Manifold, in Ikarama; neighbouring community to Kalaba.  And, ERA/FoEN had promptly reported that incident after visiting the spill impacted environment. Not so long after that spill incident, some persons from Kalaba community informed ERA/FoEN that the spill from neighbouring Ikarama has spread to their community environment. Incidentally, ERA/FoEN didn’t follow up; as folks from Ikarama denied the claim when asked.

Flood and spread of crude oil from neighbouring community

However, ERA/FoEN confirmed that up till the last week in September, 2018 Shell was yet to effectively recover the heavy volume of spilled crude oil in Ikarama environment. ERA/FoEN was at Ikarama for four times, between 14th and 21st September, 2018 and observed a lot; including heaps of dead grasses in crude oil covered swamp. The heavy presence of spilled crude oil in the swamps not far from the source of spill [the Okordia Manifold] was visible to visitors and residents; even though signs that of recovery efforts were ongoing at a far end of one of the swamps were also observed. ERA/FoEN was informed at Ikarama that the recovery was taking place at point it was being done with a view to prevent crude oil spreading to the neighbouring Kalaba community. This was the situation till the flood level increased beyond expectations and caused spreading of crude oil. ERA/FoEN spoke with three persons from Kalaba community as regards the current matter, including the paramount ruler, youth president and a lady whose farm is being impacted. While the paramount ruler and youth president led ERA/FoEN to the site of interest and responded to related questions at the crude oil impacted environment; the lady was met at her house in the community where she made statements about her impacted farm.

                Mrs Mary Gold Gabriel

Getting to the impacted swamp by canoe, ERA/FoEN field monitor took some photos and short video clips and proceeded to ask the paramount ruler and Youth president to explain how they got to know about the presence of the crude oil in their environment and what actions they have taken so far.

Responding to ERA/FoEN, Chief Francis Kolibo, paramount ruler, Kalaba community, said; ”About three months ago, I don’t know the particular date; but there was this spill which occurred at Ikarama, the neighbouring community. And when they started doing recovery of spilled crude oil, we informed the community [Ikarama] and spill recovery contractor that this recovery they are doing will affect us. They said ‘NO, it won’t’. And today, you can see this entire place; crude oil is in my swamp now, in the community swamp.

At Ikarama, September 14

“We actually expressed concern that the spill will spread to our environment and affect us because this swamp is useful to my people for fishing; there are fish ponds everywhere. This flood brought the crude oil from the Manifold to where we are now.

“ Shell should come and ensure proper cleanup of the swamp immediately otherwise, the damage would be extensive; affecting farms and farmlands too. Shell and government should come and do proper cleanup. Compensation should be paid to our people that have been affected; no matter the cause of spill because, the source of spill is not from my community. We are victims. The name of this swamp is Dan daba”.

Destroyed vegetation

In the words of the Youth President of Kalaba community, Nwalia Lincoln Lucky, ”The reason we are here is to come so that we all can observe what has happened in this environment with our own eyes.  What is before us now are dead grasses and crude oil which spread from Ikarama to our community environment. The spill occurred about three months ago.  When the spill occurred, there were other people fishing in this environment. Later, it observed that fishes caught by our fisher folks emit crude oil odour even when cooked and being eaten.  So we informed Shell, as well as the Ikarama community leadership; about our observation. But nothing was done. The name of this impacted swamp is Dandaba  (literally meaning, long swamp)’’

Asked what exactly the Kalaba community told Shell and Ikarama community, Nwalia Lincoln Lucky said, ”We know there was not much concerning Ikarama community as per what should be done, but Shell knows what should be done when such oil spill incidents occur from their facility.

“You know the swamps are connected and so after the oil spill, our people began to perceive crude oil smell from fishes caught from our swamp while eating. That prompted us to reach out to Shell, informing them of the need for us to have a meeting; but Shell gave us deaf ears and nothing was done. They didn’t call for a meeting, nothing was done.

“Apart from letting our paramount ruler know about this latest development, the community also deemed it right to inform ERA. We also informed Shell in writing, but they have neither replied nor visited the impacted site in our environment. They feel less concerned.  We want the government and whoever is interested to prevail on Shell to come and do proper cleanup of this impacted environment. They should remove all these things. Apart from that, there is need for Shell to see or meet with the affected people of Kalaba”.

Wife of a former paramount ruler of the community, Mrs. Mary Gold Gabriel, whose farm was impacted by the crude oil, also spoke to ERA/FoEN field monitors.

According to her, ”I prepared my farm and planted. Later, flood came and submerged it and destroyed my crops. I was still grieving over that loss when suddenly I don’t even know where the crude oil came from. Before I knew it crude oil had covered my entire farm.  If not for this crude oil, I had planned to go and plant cassava immediately the flood recedes. But now, the crude oil has polluted the farmland. I am confused now; I don’t know what to do.

“Government should come and clean-up the place for me to return to farm. They should also compensate me because they have degraded my farmland and even after cleanup I go ahead to plant, because the land must have lost fecundity due to the negative impacts of the crude oil there won’t be much yield in terms of productivity. Definitely I won’t plant on that land again until the crude oil has been cleaned from the land”.

Reacting to the claims by the people of Kalaba community, an indigene of Ikarama, Washington Odoyibo said,  “I know that some of our swamps are connected and water from the Onwuwu daba in Ikarama can flow easily to Kalaba environment, but the name mentioned by Kalaba, the Dan daba; is strange and I doubt if it is a known swamp in Okordia clan. I am convinced that area they are claiming that is there is still within Ikarama environment. There is no swamp known as Dan daba in Okordia”.

To ascertain from another source on  Dan daba, whether it is a known swamp in Okordia clan, ERA/FoEN reached out to the Youth president of Ayamabele community [Ayamabele is parent community of Kalaba], Kemebi Alika  with the question ” Please, is there any swamp in Okordia known as Dan daba? His response was ” I don’t think, sir”.

As noted in the introduction, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria had observed how the crude oil spill of June, 2018 from Shell’s Okordia Manifold in Ikarama environment was being handled. The attention given to the spilled crude oil in the environment by Shell was not good enough. This was so, even though Shell knows about the pollutant and toxic nature of crude oil left on the surface of the environment.  The environment between the first road [around the security post built few years ago and the Manifold was left with heavy volume of crude oil, spreading on the left and right sides of the Right Of Way of Shell (including the ROW), even around living areas and farms. The large swamp across this environment was also heavily laden with crude oil, as at the end of September, 2018. Incidentally, the clearing of grasses within this swamp started on September 21, 2018 with a view to carry on with recovery of spilled crude and possible clean up. But, it appeared not much of the crude oil was removed before the flood spread some of it to the neighbouring Kalaba community environment.

It is important to note the soluble nature of crude oil once spills occur on marine environment. The Water Associated Fraction [WAF], also referred to as Water Soluble Fraction [WSF] is the solution of low molecular mass hydrocarbons which are naturally released from petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures in contact with water. According to experts, there are molecular mass compounds which account for much of the toxic nature of hydrocarbons. Notable amongst these include highly toxic elements like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, etc. The environmental significance of these molecular mass compounds is premised on the fact that they become easily available to organisms in the environment and the resultant biodegradation [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_associated_fraction].

The water associated fraction of crude oil could account for the complain that people are perceiving the smell of hydrocarbon in fishes caught and eaten from crude oil spill impacted environment in Kalaba as well as other environments in the Niger Delta. In most cases, even while the visible component of crude oil is observed to have been contained with the help of booms; the soluble fraction continue to interact with the water, dissolves and flows away with the water current to whatever direction the current is headed. This is a pollutant aspect of crude oil in marine environment that has not been given its deserved attention in our environment. Taken the space between when the oil spill occurred [in June, 2018] which is already in the rainy season and fact that swamps had started receiving water from adjoining swamps; it is very possible that the people of Kalaba would be at the receiving end of these water soluble components of the crude oil even before the flood gets to its highest point. In view of the toxic nature of these water soluble components of crude oil, the owners of the oil facility, Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] ought to take issues of spilled crude oil recovery and cleanup seriously and promptly carry out recovery and cleanup.

Shell’s failure to act promptly tantamount to double standards, environmental abuse, negligence and  an act of Corporate  Social Irresponsibility [CSI]because SPDC cannot display this negative attitude in Netherlands. The fact that Shell’s attention was earlier drawn [as alleged]by the leadership of Kalaba community was an opportunity for the company to also take positive steps to check and see what the people complained about; especially when the oil spill didn’t actually occur in Kalaba environment. Innocent people should not be made to shoulder the negative consequences of oil industry operations.

ERA/FoEN during the visit to the impacted environment in Kalaba saw some heaps of dead grasses mixed with crude oil and high volume of crude oil covering a large area in the Dandaba swamp. Crude oil could be noticed in between the vegetation in the environment, some soiled by the crude oil. The presence of heaps of dead grasses mixed with crude oil could be reasonable attributed to have come from the Ikarama environment. This is so because ERA/FoEN was at Ikarama on the 21st of September, 2018 and saw some persons cutting the grasses within one of the impacted swamps in Ikarama. The force of the high flood must have transported these as debris to Kalaba environment, including the crude oil.

Regarding whether the area ERA/FoEN was led to by the leadership of Kalaba is actually named Dan daba [or a new name] or it belongs to Kalaba or Ikarama is not within the purview of this report.

* The Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] should take full responsibility of the spread of Crude oil from its facility at Ikarama and investigate this spread promptly.

* SPDC should promptly mobilize to map the scope of impacted environment and commence immediate recovery and cleanup at the Dan daba [if there is a name like that].

* The regulatory agencies, especially the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] and the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment [SMoE] should wade into this matter and view it as a new or extended incident which requires a separate Joint Investigation Visit [JIV] to ascertain the scope of impacted environment, volume of crude oil in the environment and properties affected in line with how JIVs are conducted. Anything less could be viewed as robbing Peter to pay Paul and, unacceptable. There is every need for Environmental Justice on this matter, unless facts are proven otherwise.

* The people of Kalaba community should follow civilized approaches to arrive at acceptable ways of addressing this issue, especially as it concerns cleanup and compensation for specific and general damages.

* Other stakeholders, including the media and NGOs working in the thematic areas should play roles expected, especially in Environmental/Human Rights and Socioeconomic Rights of our people. Issues of oil spills have livelihood and serious health implications and should be viewed from these perspectives and in line with Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right.

– Date ERA/FoEN visited site: Friday ,October 19, 2018 .
Report by: Akpotu Monday Ziworitin and Alagoa Morris