‘We’re committed to playing our part in UNEP’s Report on Ogoni cleanup’
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) has disputed claims that it was partly responsible for the delay in the cleanup of Ogoniland following failure of its commencement more than two years after its announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari. SPDC’s General Manager, External Relations, Igo Weli, in this interview with EDU ABADE, said the company was committed to playing its part in the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) recommendations on the cleanup of Ogoniland. Excerpts:
Why did it take government and UNEP’s intervention for Shell to commence the process of addressing the clean-up of Ogoni and other communities of the Niger Delta?
It is SPDC’s policy to cleanup spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause, so the suggestion that we waited for the UNEP report to act in Ogoniland is not correct. Let me restate that SPDC cleans up and remediates areas affected by spills originating from its facilities. But your question ignores a key aspect of the pollution we’re talking about in the Niger Delta – I mean, the continuing scale of sabotage of oil and gas facilities and illegal artisanal refining. To give you an idea, third-party interference on pipelines and other infrastructure was responsible for 90 per cent of oil spill incidents of more than 100 kilograms from SPDC JV facilities alone in 2016. Crude oil theft on the pipeline network resulted in a loss of about 5,660 barrels of oil a day (bbl/d) in 2016. So, the question to ask is how to stop spills from sabotage and other criminal activities, because, sadly, if this aspect is not tackled, no amount of cleanup will help the environment.
How does your answer explain the proposed cleanup of Ogoniland?
The UNEP report states that multi-stakeholder action must be taken to address hydrocarbon re-pollution, and this is also the message that is being preached today by everyone – civil society, government, traditional rulers etc. I recall that the Minister of State for Environment recently engaged illegal artisanal refinery operators in Ogoniland and his message was clear: re-pollution has to stop. HYPREP has also gone on air lamenting the impact of illegal artisanal refining in the area. So, the message is clear: if re-pollution either from crude oil theft and illegal artisanal refining are not stopped, the UNEP report, regardless of how well its cleanup recommendations are implemented, will not make any difference on the ground.
Which brings us to pollution from your operations; how are you tackling this?
A key priority for SPDC is to achieve the goal of no spills from its operations. No spill is acceptable and we work hard to prevent them. In our operations in 2016, there were seven operational spills of more than 100 kilograms in volume from SPDC JV facilities. This number is less than the 16 spills in 2015, due to continued progress on preventing operational spills, such as regular inspections and maintenance of pipelines.
To reduce operational spills, SPDC is focused on implementing its ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipelines and flow lines. Fifty-seven and forty-two kilometres of flow lines and pipelines respectively were installed in 2016 bringing the total distance of flow lines and pipelines replaced over the last five years to nearly 1000 kilometres. SPDC continues to undertake initiatives to prevent and minimise spills caused by theft and sabotage of its facilities in the Niger Delta. In 2016, we sustained on-ground surveillance efforts in our areas of operations, including pipeline network, to mitigate incidents of third-party interference and ensure that spills are detected and responded to as quickly as possible.
There are also daily over-flights of the pipeline network areas to identify any new spill incidents or activities. And then, we have installed state-of-the-art high definition camera to a specialised helicopter that greatly improves the surveillance of our assets and have implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms on key infrastructure.
Coming back to UNEP, won’t you agree that the Ogoni clean-up process has been delayed, and if so, why?
You may wish to direct this question to the government as they have been tasked by UNEP to lead and coordinate the cleanup effort. But I can tell you that this is a multi-dimensional exercise that needs careful planning, allocation of resources and other input that will make the implementation succeed.
On the part of SPDC, what specific actions have you taken in the last six years on the recommendations of the UNEP report?
In the last six years, the 15 SPDC JV sites mentioned in the report have been re-assessed, and where further remediation was required, those sites have been remediated and certified by government regulators. SPDC has completed a comprehensive review of its oil spill response and remediation techniques, and made several improvements in line with industry best practices.
Contractors have been re-trained on clean up and remediation techniques and SPDC has assigned specialist supervisors to a number of project sites to ensure effective oversight and compliance. SPDC continues to carry out regular aerial monitoring of all the joint venture’s facilities in Ogoniland, including the creeks and pipelines, to identify any new incidents or activities, such as theft and sabotage, which may result in environmental damage.
SPDC continues to implement several initiatives to prevent and minimise the impact of crude oil theft and illegal refining in Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta where it operates. For example: community-based pipeline surveillance, awareness campaigns, and the promotion of alternative livelihood programmes, such as Shell’s youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE. As you can see, we have done a lot and continue to remain committed to playing our part in a holistic implementation of the report.
Could you enlighten us more on the funding of the cleanup?
The UNEP report recommended the creation of a Fund for the cleanup of Ogoniland. Contributions to the fund are to be made by operators in Ogoniland. To this end, the Federal Government is taking the lead in setting up the Ogoni Restoration Fund (ORF) in the initial sum of $1 billion. SPDC JV partners are to provide 90 per cent of the sum in accordance with their participating interests; refineries are to contribute 5 per cent; while other local operators will account for the remaining 5 per cent. All this is public information as contained in the HYPREP gazette that was published by the Federal Government in 2016. SPDC remains fully committed to contributing its share to the ORF within the appropriate framework and governance structures. We encourage all relevant stakeholders to also remain committed to contributing their share to the ORF. SPDC JV has made available the $10 million take-off fund for HYPREP as part of its contribution towards funding its share of the ORF.
There are suggestions that Shell plans to move its major operations offshore while most of the environmental degradation issues remain largely unresolved, why is this so?
SPDC will continue to operate responsibly in the Niger Delta and fulfill our commitments, while also working to take advantage of every opportunity to add better value to our business in Nigeria.
Environmental activists have claimed that they have letters from communities that Shell plans to re-enter Ogoniland by changing some of its pipelines, is that the case?
SPDC has not produced oil and gas in Ogoniland since 1993 and has no plans to resume operations there. We repair or change pipelines as the need arises.
So why hasn’t Shell decommissioned if you are really not planning to return to Ogoni for oil exploration?
SPDC has completed an inventory and physical verification of assets for de-commissioning and continues to work with its joint venture partners and the Federal Government to develop a decommissioning plan for these assets. I repeat that SPDC has no plans to resume oil production in Ogoniland.
What are Shell’s long-term plans to ensure a harmonious working relationship with its host communities of the Niger Delta region?
SPDC works with government, communities and civil society to implement programmes that have a lasting impact on lives in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. Our social investment activities focus on community and enterprise development, education, health, access-to energy and since 2016, road safety. This, however, excludes community-driven development programmes and initiatives delivered through the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU), which focuses on various themes as determined by the benefiting communities. Collectively, Nigeria has the second largest concentration, after the United States, of social investment spending in the Shell Group.
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