ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ACTION [ERA]/FRIENDS OF THE EARTH NIGERIA [FoEN 214 Uselu-Lagos Road, P.O. Box 10
ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ACTION [ERA]/FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
214 Uselu-Lagos Road, P.O. Box 10577, Benin-City, Nigeria.
Tel/Fax + 23452880619, Toll Free Line +2348031230089
Location: Elebele Community Environment, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa state.
Occupation: Fishing, farming, palm oil milling, etc.
Date of incident: May 15, 2021
Date of ERA/FoEN site visit: May 16, 2021
Elebele Community is one of the communities hosting Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] and the Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC] in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Apart from Oil/Gas wells in the community environment where Shell extracts the resources 24/7, there are oil/gas pipelines owned by Shell in the environment. NAOC also has a manifold and gas pipeline traversing the community environment. Some of Elebele’s neighbours include Imiringi and Otuasega communities both in Ogbia LGA.
The attention of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria [ERA/FoEN] was drawn to a gas leak in Elebele Community environment in the afternoon of Saturday, May 15, 2021 [between 3pm-4pm], as concerns were expressed by those who actually witnessed the environment enveloped by the spewing gas, fearing likelihood of a fire outbreak.
When ERA/FoEN visited the site of incident on Sunday morning, a particular smell was perceived before even getting off the vehicle and being led to the spot by two community folks. After observing the immediate environment of the incident close to the road and taking some photos and video shots, related statements were obtained from a community folk before ERA/FoEN was led to the community where two more persons [including a tricycle rider] spoke on the matter.
According to Godfery Profit Obi, “I work with the Elebele Council of Chiefs and Elders. As of yesterday (May 15, 2021) we received a call that there is gas leakage right at this point. This is a Shell pipeline conveying gas and crude oil. As at yesterday it was something very dangerous to human life because it was very close to the road. It was a serious leakage, accompanied with some noise. We took some video shots and still photos of the scene immediately. From what I am seeing today, the pressure has been reduced. That is why you can observe the little flow of the pressure.’’
Asked if Shell had visited the site, he said, “Well, as at yesterday we called them and they came to this point and took some photo and video shots when the pressure was very much high. They came and, I think that led to the shutting down of the pressure. Actually, our demand as a community, we are calling on SPDC to put an eye on their facility. You can imagine where a Shell pipeline is passing, no contractor is clearing the line; no surveillance contractor that is taking care of the line and there are people who have been volunteering to do some level of surveillance but they [Shell] took them for granted.
“Shell don’t empower them, nor engage them formally. All they do is asking such persons to watch the pipeline without any benefits. So, our humble appeal is that a contractor should be engaged; even if as a bush watcher to be in charge of this line. At least it would safeguard the pipeline, in order to prevent such from happening again. What actually happened yesterday was a threat to human life because tricycles, bikes and cars were plying this road. And you can imagine what could have happened if there was a little ignition of fire; something else would have happened. So, we are calling on SPDC to engage surveillance contractor and someone who would be clearing the pipeline to scare away vandals.’’
Chima Franklin, a tricycle rider who witnessed the incident recounts:
“The experience I had yesterday was a terrible one. I passed that spot yesterday, carrying passengers. When I passed through that environment where gas had saturated the place, it was terrible. The noise was too much and the smoke [gas] spewing into the environment was much. I thought it was my tire that burst so I stopped to check around. It was a leakage of gas around that area. My passengers were afraid. And they urged me to move them away from that environment before there would be fire.
“The incident started around 3pm and when I passed there around 8pm it was still very much on. All those passing the area, in cars and tricycles were scared.’’
The adviser on Youth Matters to the Chief of Elebele Community,
Comrade Fidelis Alabo-Iti :
“Concerning what happened yesterday on the Shell pipeline, I was so surprised. I was surprised because I never imagined such a thing would happen. Although if you look at the environment where the pipeline is situated, it is obvious that it would be very easy for vandals to take advantage of the bushy situation to perpetrate such acts of vandalism. My advice to the youths of Elebele community is for them to be very vigilant’.’
Oil industry-induced pollution in the Niger Delta has continued indifferent forms such as gas flaring, oil spills, gas leaks or blowouts, drilling of chemicals, etc. Apart from gas flaring known to be going on 24/7 onshore and offshore, it cannot be far from the truth that the other sources of pollution from the oil industry are also continuing unabated, 24 hours and seven days of the week at different locations. And, unless the Civil Society, community folks and media make these abuses known to the general public; these ugly acts would be deemed no longer occurring in our environment. This is so because neither the regulators nor oil companies are favourably disposed to letting the public know what happens in the sector.
At the Elebele gas leak site, ERA/FoEN field monitor was surprised to find that such oil/gas bearing pipelines are laid along that stretch of land. With the pipeline sitting under overgrown shrubs and grasses, only those who actually know the exact spots the pipeline was laid could trace and dig correctly to execute their mission aided by cover from the bushy environment. And according to one of those who led ERA/FoEN to the site, the pipes on this pipeline were replaced not long ago; meaning they are new pipes.
That the signs of digging were very obvious and the incident happened in the afternoon is a testimony that the vandals took advantage of the bushy environment to perpetrate their act. Even though the site of gas leak was close to a relatively busy road, it was good to observe that there was no fire incident. This might have been as a result of the weather. At the time of this visit, there was no observable significant damage in the environment.
The ruptured spot was still spewing the content of the pipeline when ERA/FoEN visited. While there was little quantity of water [maybe due to rain] in the spot dug to expose the pipe; what was being spewed appeared to be gas even though substance suspected to be crude oil was also floating on the bubbling water around it. The bubbling was caused by the low pressure gas spewing accompanied with a sound which could be heard from the roadside.
The cause of leakage would be left for the official Joint Investigation Team [JIT] to ascertain but this incident is strongly suspected to have been caused by vandals. ERA/FoEN is hinging its conclusion on cause of the leak to the presence of fresh mud dug to access the pipe and 3 0’Clock or 9 0’ Clock
position of rupture. It is also unfortunate to hear that Shell has no surveillance guards for this pipeline even though surveillance contracts have not stopped third party incidents in other environments where Shell operates. However, following allegations that some oil company staff and contractors also sponsor oil spills, Shell staff and contractors may also be suspected of involvement in incidents such as this as only persons with knowledge of the exact location of the pipelines in such a bushy environment can identify where to dig.
 Shell should take all necessary and legitimate steps to ensure the protection of its pipelines and functional oil/gas wellheads within Elebele environment as well as other places where it operates. Whatever community folks are doing on their part for the protection of Shell facilities in the environment should be seen as goodwill from the community and not be taken for granted.
 Shell should do more self-reappraisal to identify unscrupulous staff or contractors who sponsors some of these negative acts within the oil industry and, not only dismiss or terminate their employment and contracts but also ensure their prosecution in courts of competent jurisdiction. Only taking such action would absolve the oil companies from culpability.
 The community should be vigilant and ensure that unscrupulous community members or strangers do not perpetrate acts that would tarnish the good image of the community or endanger the environment.