The history of oil exploration and production in Ogoniland is a long, complex and often painful one that to date has become seemingly intractable in terms of its resolution and future direction.
It is also a history that has put people and politics and the oil industry at loggerheads rendering a landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned.
The reality is that decades of negotiations, initiatives and protests have ultimately failed to deliver a solution that meets the expectations and responsibilities of all sides.
In an attempt to navigate from stalemate to action, the federal government in consultation with many of the relevant actors, invited the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP to consider undertaking an assessment of oil pollution in Ogoniland.
The findings in the report underline that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, since then has taken proactive measures working with the relevant stakeholders to implement the 2011 UNEP, Report on Ogoniland.
Over the last eight years, SPDC has taken action on all, and completed most, of the UNEP recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator of the Joint Venture, JV.
The UNEP report recommended the creation of an Ogoni Trust Fund with $1 billion capital to be co-funded by the Nigerian government, the SPDC JV and other operators in the area.
The SPDC JV has expressly and obviously remained fully committed to contributing its share of $900 million over five years to the fund.
In 2017, the oil major made $10 million available to help set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP), an agency established by the federal government to lead the clean-up effort.
In 2018, the SPDC JV deposited a further $170 million into the escrow account to fund HYPREP’s activities, to complete its first-year contribution of $180 million.
It its avowed commitment to that course, the firm in 2019 contributed the next tranche of $180 million.
At the end of 2019, the total contribution made was $360 million which represents the full amount due for the two years.
The SPDC has been working with the Bodo community and others to clean up areas affected by two operational spills in 2008.
A memorandum of understanding granting SPDC access to begin the clean-up was signed in 2015 and two contractors were selected to conduct the clean-up, overseen by an independent project director.
The clean-up consists of three phases, which include the removal of free phase surface oil, remediation of soil and planting of mangroves and monitoring.
To further demonstrate its commitment, the removal of surface oil which started in September 2017 was successfully completed in August 2018.
Also, field remediation activities started in November 2019 following a contract procurement process to select remediation contractors.
In addition 800 community workers have been medically checked, assessed for their swimming ability to ensure they can safely respond to incidents in rivers and creeks, and trained to International Maritime Organisation oil spill response Levels one and two.
Remediation is expected to take around 18 months while the clean-up will only be successful if the repeated re-contamination of cleaned-up sites from illegal third-party activity stops.
Responding To UNEP Recommendations
Since 2011, the SPDC has taken action on all the recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator, which re-assessed 15 SPDC JV sites mentioned in the UNEP report and remediated further where required with the sites certified by government regulators.
The firm completed an inventory and physical verification of assets for decommissioning and working with Joint Venture partners and the Nigerian government to develop a decommissioning plan for these assets.
Also completed is a comprehensive review of its oil spill response and remediation techniques and made a number of improvements in line with industry best practices while collaborating with the Rivers State Government to deliver water to impacted communities and built water facilities, which are expected to be upgraded as part of HYPREP’s planned activities. It has trained contractors on clean-up and remediation techniques and assigned specialist supervisors to a number of project sites to ensure effective oversight and compliance and is carrying out regular aerial monitoring of the JV’s facilities in Ogoniland, including the creeks and pipelines, to identify new incidents or activities (such as theft and sabotage) which may result in environmental damage.