Hydrocarbon pollution: environmentalist tasks FG to revoke licenses of perennial polluters

Port Harcourt—Notable environmental advocate, Iniruo Wills, has called on oil companies operating in the Niger-Delta region to take responsibility for their actions that usually lead to hydrocarbon pollution in the region.

Wills made this known in a paper presented at the 57th Conference of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on 14th March 2021, titled ‘Environmental Responsibilities for Hydrocarbon Development in Divested Fields.’

He revealed that in one of the oil fields divested (bought over) in Bayelsa State, there was a massive rig explosion that caused the eventual uprooting of communities.

“No EIA was conducted in the first place for the project in which the rig explosion occurred. This was pre-divestment, but the impacts continue and might last for decades. There has not been satisfactory ecological and social remediation. Now the asset has reportedly been divested.

“Besides the egregious default of not doing an EIA for the base project, what kind of EES could have been prepared – if any – to warrant regulatory approval for such a divestment, with the huge environmental baggage outstanding?

“Who will eventually pay for the cost of remediation and compensation in line with best practice? The present operator, its predecessor, NNPC as a dominant JV partner with controlling influence, or the regulators who may have failed in their regulatory duty of care to the entire spectrum of stakeholders?

“Are the host state, communities and the environment not left with the short end of the stick? To add to this, for most of November 2021, there was a major gas leakage from one of the same divested fields and facilities,” he said.

According to him, in another divested field, also in Bayelsa State, the new operator claims that it was not allowed to do any environmental due diligence by its predecessor, so it cannot assume liability for the series of unattended pollution before it took over.

“The divestment agreement states that the assignor/acquirer will take over assets and liabilities, which is an elementary principle of law between contracting parties when you buy an asset.

“There have been countless additional spill disasters since the divestment, including a recent well explosion that may easily have pumped over a million barrels of crude oil and gas into the ecosystem, killing or displacing most of the biodiversity in the area.

“There have been more spills even after that. And for over a year, the new operator has been in court with the former asset owner on claims that it was sold “damaged goods”, implying some of the major facilities were prone to repeated spills.”

Read also: Nembe oil spill: residents report fresh leak from OML 29

Wills recommended that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, in consultation with the Minister of Environment and Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), should revoke the licenses of some perennial polluters and reallocate them to operators with healthy records, if any, at least in respect of 2 to 3 oil blocs, in line with the welcome provisions in section 96 of the PIA.

He called on the Federal Ministry of Environment to set up a Niger Delta wide comprehensive environmental remediation programme, modeled after the integration of the UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, the ongoing HYPREP cleanup of Ogoniland and the Bodo Mediation Initiative/Remediation Project.

“All operators, including NNPC, should be made to contribute commensurately to fund the exercise, in settlement of their historical environmental liabilities and in lieu of their remediation fund obligations till date under the PIA.

“Concurrently, a comprehensive decommissioning and asset audit/upgrade campaign should be driven by NUPRC and NMDPRA, to abate a continuing surge in ecological calamities and concomitant liabilities arising from the Nigerian playbook of hydrocarbon development.

“The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court should under his statutory powers set up a division of the FHC in at least every senatorial district in the oil-producing states to make room for communities to access the Nigerian legal system.”

He tasked the Chief Judge to enable the fast-tracking of environmental litigation by bringing it into the ambit of the Fundamental Human Rights (Enforcement) Rules.

Wills averred that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) should be amended to mandate all petroleum mining leaseholders, with the possible exception of marginal field operators, to be publicly listed on the stock exchange in order to subject them to the disclosures, scrutiny and other minimum corporate governance standards that apply to publicly quoted firms

“As in EGASPIN, whose legal enforceability is open to debate, the PIA should be amended to also set a clean bill of environmental health and community consultations as conditions precedent for the grant of the Minister of Petroleum’s consent to any divestment.

“The constitution should be amended to explicitly put environmental responsibility on the concurrent legislative list and thereby enable state legislatures and High Courts of states to respectively legislate on and adjudicate environmental claims related to the industry.

“The Federal Ministry of Environment in collaboration with respective state governments should embark on an intensive community environmental conscientization and preparedness programme.

“The President should sign the NOSDRA Act Amendment Bill into law to properly empower NOSDRA, the agency should be rigorously repositioned and adequately funded for effectiveness, and its head office moved to the oil-producing region where it will be useful, away from its current domicile in Abuja where it has been a net liability to the interest of environmental responsibility.

“There is much more that can be recommended and done. In the final analysis, what we do about our environment whether in divested fields or across all hydrocarbon blocs is a measure of whether our environment – our entire natural heritage – ranks as a value in our claim to civilization. It’s up to us,” he stated.

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