The Senate has called for stiff punishment against Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPC) Limited, over the crude oil and gas spill at the Santa Barbara River, in Nembe, in Bayelsa State.
This followed a motion sponsored by Senator Biobarakuma W. Degi-Eremienyo, titled: “Urgent need to stop the continuous crude oil and gas blow out spill at Santa Barbara well 1, OML 29 operated by AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited, in Opu Nembe, Bayelsa State.”
Specifically, the upper chamber urged the federal government, through its industry regulatory agencies, to penalise indigenous oil companies responsible for the devastation of host communities where they operate.
The Senate also charged Aiteo to urgently seek, explore and deploy relevant highest level of expertise and technology to stop the spill and prevent the continuous damage to the environment and restore the life support system of the people.
While condemning in totality the oil spill by Aiteo, the lawmakers tasked the relevant agencies to invoke the maximum penalties applicable under the laws for such infractions.
The agencies are also expected to undertake environmental impact assessment to determine the extent of the pollution with a view to undertaking remediation in accordance with internationally accepted polluter pays principles within ninety days.
It further resolved that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) should, as a matter of urgency, provide relief materials as this ugly incident has taken a negative toll on the health and wellbeing of the people of the host communities which can be declared as a disaster area.
I believe that this particular case should be made to be an example of what the government and its agencies can do, not only to force the alleged culprit to remedy the environment but also to penalise the oil company for devastating the lives of the people of that area.
Lack of competence
In his position, Eremienyo who came under order 42 and 52 of the Senate Rules, drew the attention of his colleagues to the continuous gushing and spewing of oil and gas into the waterways and mangrove vegetation from a long sealed, non-producing oil well 1, Santa Barbara OML 29 belonging to Aiteo.
Eremienyo said the Senate is “Worried that even though the same oil well has witnessed several oil spills in previous years, the current incident borders on catastrophe due to a long period of accumulated oil and maximum pressure from piled up gas in the well.
He noted that the magnitude of this incident is of an extremely high order, the first of its kind in this part of the world given its impact on the environment, aquatic life and livelihoods of the inhabitants.
He also recalled that during the just-concluded global Climate Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland, world leaders gathered to encourage nations to implement international best practices in cutting off such emissions into the entire ecosystem.
He continued: “Note that while the policy on divestments by IOCS in exploration and production of oil and gas is a welcome development, as it creates space for indigenous companies to invest and grow in the industry, such opportunities should be accorded to indigenous companies with proven requisite technical and financial competence.”
“Attempts to stop the continuous oil and gas spill by the operators had failed repeatedly for over one month running, wasting an estimated over two million barrels of hydrocarbon and gas, shows a disappointing appearance of technical incompetence in handling the incident on the part of AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited.”
Regulatory agencies are to undertake environmental impact assessment to determine the extent of the pollution with a view to undertaking remediation in accordance with internationally accepted polluter pays principles within ninety days.
Contributing, Senator George Thompson Sekibo, decried that many states in the Niger Delta are polluted with soot as a result of the flagrant negligence of oil companies, and urged the government to curb the excesses of such companies operating in the area.
In his remarks, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who made a case for indigenous oil companies responsible for the devastation of host communities where they operate to be dealt with, said the National Assembly would insist on companies carrying out their corporate-social responsibilities to host communities under the law.
This, he said, would also involve penalizing any company that fails to adhere to operational standards set out by the federal government.
Lawan said: “I feel very sad that an indigenous oil company for that matter would be involved in this kind of incident and yet not be able to show any capacity. As a country, we want to promote our local content – indigenous oil companies to participate in this industry.
“But we are going to insist, whether it is an indigenous owned company or an international one, that the companies must be responsible to the communities and to us as a nation. This is devastation of lives and ecosystems in that part of the country.
“I believe that this particular case should be made to be an example of what the government and its agencies can do, not only to force the alleged culprit to remedy the environment but also to penalise the oil company for devastating the lives of the people of that area (Nembe).”