Available data on oil spills from National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), showed that at least 1,000 incidents occur every year in Bayelsa.
Though the cumulative volume of oil leakage into the environment in Bayelsa cannot be easily ascertained; Shell Petroleum Development Company figures available can provide some insight.
SPDC in its 2019 operational brief on its website stated that in addition to spills caused by criminal activities, there were 15 operational spills of more than 100 kilogrammes in volume from Shell facilities in 2018, which was above the 10 spills recorded in 2017.
In 2018, the total volume of oil spilled from operational incidents was approximately 0.4 thousand tonnes, compared to 0.1 thousand tonnes in 2017.
About 90 per cent of the volume of spilled oil can be attributed to spills from the Trans Ramos Pipeline, which runs through Southern Ijaw and Ekeremor Local Government Areas of Bayelsa.
Fishermen have attributed dwindling catch to spills, which they say often wipe generations of fish and other marine life in the food chain anytime a leak discharges crude into the rivers.
Rev. Sam Ayadi, Chairperson, Artisan Fishermen Association of Nigeria, said that oil firms should see the fishing environment they operate as a common heritage and operate in an environmentally sustainable manner, to ensure that both the fishing vocation and oil industry thrive in the overall interest of the country.
Ayadi lamented that the frequent spills had forced over 5,000 fishermen out of business since the Bonga oil Spill of 2012, while the oil industry had moved on.
“We are hoping that the oil companies see us as partners because the oilfields where they explore for oil also is our farm, we are fishing there in the offshore platforms and the rivers where they have onshore wells.
“We are first to notice whenever there is a leak and we report to security agencies, but the oil companies do not show us any concern when there is a spill which damages our fishing gear.
“The Bonga oilfield was named after a fish specie, which is fast disappearing and going into extinction due to the adverse impact of the Bonga spill, what an irony? Our desire is that oil industry should run alongside fishing.
“Our appeal to the government is to save our traditional fishing occupation by ensuring that oil leaks are minimised, that way the environment will be safeguarded to sustain fishing and oil production,” Ayadi said.
Ayadi’s desire for a clean environment raises the issue of clean-up of oil spills and restoring the environment to its original state and its economic viability.
Hitherto, substances like dispersants used in cleaning crude oil spills were toxic to humans and aquatic life, so the regulatory agencies only approve its use in offshore fields, away from human settlements.
There are, however, indications that advancements in chemical sciences have provided answers in synthetic materials that soak oil leakages and break down the hydrocarbon molecules into degradable non-toxic molecules.
These commercially available oil spill clean-up materials have not been put to use in the Nigerian space due to the current methods of setting fire on spilled crude.
A foreign non-government organisation, One World, One Ocean, had in 2015 introduced the methods and demonstrated the efficacy of the synthetic materials in breaking down oil molecules and neutralising its toxicity.
Mr Bank Japhet, Director in Charge of Petroleum Pollution, Bayelsa Ministry of Environment, who led the officials of the non-governmental organisation, noted that the state was in dire need of clean-up, to make more land available for farming as well as clean-up the swamps and creeks of oil pollution.
The environmental advocacy group sought and got the approval of Bayelsa Government to conduct pilot clean-up of oil polluted sites in oilfields located at Kalaba community.
Checks at the pilot sites, showed that the remediated sites regained fertility unlike polluted sites that were not treated with the synthetic materials, but the project did not go beyond the pilot stage.
The organisation had donated a mini truck load of the clean-up materials to Bayelsa Ministry of Environment and offered to assist the state to clean-up oil impacted sites in future stages of the project, expected to be spread across the Niger Delta region.
The results from this experiment indicate that deploying available technology to address oil pollution can create jobs from the economic activities, following the use of synthetic materials.
Industry players suggest that the concept should be examined for possible use by the oil industry, while NOSDRA should play its regulatory role and scrutinise the claims made by the manufacturers of the material.
They said that building the capacity of entrepreneurs from oil bearing communities to embrace the use of modern methods to clean oil pollution and remediate polluted sites would be economically feasible and sustain the environment as well.
They noted that in the current industry operational framework, the operator is held responsible for cleaning up the leak within its asset, the oil spill agency should approve the use of such materials by clean-up contractors retained by oil firms.
The vendors of such approved chemicals can be further persuaded to train people from oil bearing communities on how to use such materials to clean and remediate oil spill sites.
As part of the local content plan, Nigerian scientists and researchers should study and analyse the chemical with a view to developing local alternatives in the nearest future. (Features)
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