- Community Members Lament ‘It’s a Ticking Time Bomb.’
From Joseph Obukata (The New Diplomat’s N/Delta Correspondent)
Ms. Tamarakpo, (as she simply identified herself) is a dry fish dealer in Twon-Brass, a rustic Ijaw community where she has her home. She had for years plied her trade in the swampy Nun River that flows through Brass town previously known as Twon-Brass in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa state.
Her main occupation alongside other women in the community is fishing on the river which has its water cloaked with crude pigments, no thanks to decades of heavy crude oil pollution.
Sometimes last year, Tamarakpo with her group of fish farmers alarmed community members after they noticed a fresh oil spill seeping through their farms and along fishing routes. Few days after their alarm, the area went up in flame. It was a pipeline fire that raged for days.
In the wake of the incident, Tamarakpo and other women who had continued to bear the brunt of such incident were made to understand that the fire resulting from the pipeline explosion occurred from pipelines feeding the Brass oil export terminal. It was not the first time such ugly incident would happen.
In February 2020, an explosion of such magnitude occurred in another facility belonging to Eni, an oil major operating in the area.
A source who gave his name as Jerome Diepreye disclosed that the recent fire that occurred on the 16th of June 2020, about a fortnight ago was “a tip of the iceberg”.
According to him, Twon-Brass and other Ijaw towns hosting the export terminal and pipelines are siting on a time bomb waiting to explode. Majority of oil facilities belonging to Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) two major operators of oil terminals in Brass Island appear obsolete and would fail integrity test if one is carried out on them.
Investigations revealed that most of the pipelines which traversed the length and breath of Brass Island crisscrossing Nembe and Twon-Brass were done in the 1970’s.
“Majority of the facilities have long passed their best before dates and the standard of construction were all third rates that would not be accepted anywhere in a civilised world. Nembe creek oil product/evacuation line, (formerly owned by Shell) less than 10kms away which was constructed about same time, have been completely changed because of its obsolescence. From eon, some of the facilities have remained obsolete”, Diepreye added.
“Besides claims of third-party sabotage, Agip has been trying to maximize profit with the continual use of these obsolete equipment knowing fully well the danger it posed to the people of Brass. If anything happened here, we will be doomed because we are in the centre of old crude production system and the fire that occurred on the 16th of June 2020 is a tip of the iceberg”.
A resident who gave his name simply as Alaowei accused NOAC of alleged “divide and rule” whenever issues of remediation arising from pipeline explosion is brought to the fore, saying that Brass has remained impoverished because of the policy of causing confusion among members of the community while they go ahead with their work.
“Unfortunate part of the whole thing is that they keep giving promises and excuses because of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from which they give pittance to the people. If you think that a company that has not upgraded its operating systems for over 40 years will be good with its corporate social responsibilities, you had better think twice. All they do when the communities are agitating, is to cause divide and rule, they settle a few leaders who then go and disorganize any plan to protest against the company”.
According to him, in the June incident alone, about 150,000 barrels of crude were discharged into Brass river by Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NOAC) killing the fauna and flora of the sleepy town and rendering their only means of livelihood useless.
In a report by The New Diplomat, the locals had put the estimated amount of crude waste discharged by NAOC at its brass terminal at about 2.6 billion barrels in 48 years. This, was because all the crude oil production by Agip “are piped to Brass from all their land and swamp locations”, one source said.
Multiple sources told The New Diplomat that Agip allegedly operates a secret canal from where they channel toxic waste products into the Brass River. The river flowing into adjoining swampy creeks, is the only source of drinking water for the locals.
“Italian oil giant has a canal which runs into the brass river from where they contaminate our soil, ground waters and air quality of the area and degraded the health and livelihood of our people here in brass”, another source said.
Another resident of the area, Ebipade who ekes out a living on the Nun river with his boat said community members now live in fears. He said oil exploration activities by NAOC have forced some of his colleagues to abandon the trade because of the fear of imminent explosion in some of the routes they ply around Brass Island.
“The imminent danger facing Brass island and its people is beyond description, based on the following facts. The Agip Oil company reservoir (tanks) that stores its crude oil for export through the Brass sea is less than a hundred metres away from the Brass community. These tanks were built about 50 years ago. There are also a lot of pipelines coming from all of their oil wells crisscrossing the whole of the Brass area that terminates at the Agip base reservoir in Brass,” Ebipade stated.
This medium had earlier reported that NAOC had been linked to several cases of environmental degradation in the Bayelsa community in the past. In 2017, the Ikebiri community in Bayelsa dragged the oil giant to an Italian court in Milan over a 2010 oil spill that destroyed livelihoods in the community. The community, comprising several mostly fishing villages, said the oil company offered a N4.5 million compensation for the spill, a minute fraction of the €2 million it is demanding. Also, Agip’s oil Ogboinbiri-Tebidaba pipeline multiple spills in Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa have severely impacted local lives and farming lands over the years, the report stated.
Besides crude pollution, the non-stop discharge of chemical waste products from Brass Canal and oil terminals is one major environmental problem that has triggered lots of petitions from the area.
In one of such petitions addressed to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and other regulatory agencies, leaders of the Brass, through their legal counsel, Hon. Iniruo Wills and Dr. Dickson E. Omukoro of the Ntephe, Smith and Wills law chambers, had accused NAOC of insensitivity to the plight of the people. Most of the letters were also copied the Agip management and the Bayelsa State Government as well as host communities in Brass Local Government.
According to a letter obtained by The New Diplomat, the locals had accused NAOC of discharging 150,000 barrels of toxic waste daily, which has left the community in ruins, noting that the discharge at its brass terminal had lasted for more 48 years.
The community members lamented that despite several correspondences sent to the oil company, the NAOC management has failed to remediate the damages and pay compensation to the locals.
“This letter is a reminder to the company for the desperate need for proper remediation of ecological damage caused by the continual discharge of toxic waste at your brass terminal every day for 48 years, the community need adequate compensation based on impartial impact assessment and a restoration and pollution prevention plan per best practice”, Hon. Iniruo Wills and Dr. Dickson E.Omukoro of the Ntephe, Smith and Wills law chambers, said in the letter.
The letter addressed to the Managing Director of NAOC further reads, “we put you on notice to stop desperate attempts by your officers to compromise or induce key interests, aimed at evading regulatory compliance, frustrating the Ministerial directive for an independent comprehensive inpact assessment and to corruptly waive NOAC’s environmental obligations to the people of the Brass Kingdom. The backdoor attempts referenced are examples of the practice of some oil industry operators that has caused protracted conflict and insecurity in the Niger Delta. Which NOAC should be wary of.”
On the series of engagement among the various stakeholders, regulatory agencies and the people of Brass Kingdom, the Counsels to the Brass Kingdom accused Agip of “persistently trying to frustrate the conduct of the CIA directed by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and allegedly hood winked the people of Brass Kingdom into signing away their constitutionally guaranteed rights to a clean, healthy environment and adequate compensation for damage suffered.
“NOAC’s latest scheme to avoid liability has been to smuggle an environmental liability waiver clause into hastily proposed CRS Memorandum of Understanding, despite refusing to sign any MoU on SCR projects since 2014 and to put massive pressure on selected community leaders to sign it, thereby creating a potential blackmail tool against the kingdom and its people. The draft ouster clause, unprecedented even in a military rule setting.
“There are also indications that, the defective tender notice having failed, NOAC may now be trying to surreptitiously stampede influential community figures to commit in advance to supporting NOAC’s arbitrarily preferred contractor for a phantom remediation project without submitting itself to the conduct of the CIA that will determine appropriate remediation measures, scope and design, without transparently following due contracting processes applicable to the Federal Government Joint Venture (JV) operations in the oil industry”.
“NOAC continue to insist expressly and by conduct that it would use its own unilateral study as a basis for remediation emboldened by the presumption that it has succeeded in delaying or preventing the regulatory MDAs from conducting CIA thus far. As you know, a person’s cannot be judge in his own case and a defaulter. In this case a chronic violator, cannot write his own investigation. NOAC conduct is reckless and in serial violation of national and international environmental laws and treaties-civil and criminal, disregard all known norms of corporate responsibilities and ethics.”
Meanwhile, several efforts to get NAOC to react to this report as of press time proved abortive but the company had claimed on its website that asset integrity is central to its business. According to the oil giant, “all Eni’s subsidiaries throughout the world comply with company Standards, national legislation and applicable international standards in all their operations, and always apply serious preventive measures to contain incidents.
“Over the past years, NAOC JV facilities (wells, flowlines and pipelines approximately covering 3.000 km) have been a target of criminal groups and militants with access to the area and knowledge of the territory, engaged in illegal activities resulting in significant losses. The company has developed an integrated strategy to prevent, reduce, contain and remediate these events and their impact”, NAOC, the Nigerian subsidiary of Italian oil giant, ENI, which operates in the Niger Delta under a joint venture agreement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (60 per cent), NAOC (20 per cent), and Oando (20 per cent) posted on its website.
The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in its response to past inquiries, had said that the two recent spills from Agip’s oil fields in Southern Ijaw and Brass Local Government Areas of Bayelsa were caused by equipment failure arising from Agip’s operations.
Mr Idris Musa, Director-General, NOSDRA, said his team visited both incidents in Southern Ijaw and Brass. However, effort to get reaction of the agency on the recent explosion incident in Twon-Brass has been unsuccessful.