'Environmental genocide' was the label the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, hung on the decades of multinational oil company operations in Nigeria's Niger Delta at the 1 November launch of the interim report by the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission, which he chairs.
The 11-page interim report is based on anecdotal accounts from locals of ecological devastation and poverty and references scientific studies of damage. Up to now, governmental investigations, most of them paid for by the industry, have blamed spills on conflict between the military and armed groups, organised oil thieves, and locals deliberately opening pipes to claim compensation.
Before the landmark 2011 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on similar catastrophic levels of oil pollution to those in Bayelsa but in Ogoni, on the other side of the Delta, UNEP was criticised for pre-announcing findings in 2009 that only 10% of pollution was due to leaks from Shell's pipelines.
Any Commission recommendations on a clean-up will spark controversy. The operation in Ogoni has run into endless delays, despite Shell and others handing over US$180 million to the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project to do the work (AC Vol 60 No 7, Clean-up or cover-up? & Vol 60 No 18, The oil clean-up that didn't?).
The military's role in oil theft and associated pollution is another political hot potato. A June report by Transparency International alleged that Nigeria loses 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to oil theft, in which the armed forces play a leading role. Between 2016 and 2017, Nigeria lost over $105 billion, TI claims.
The Sentamu Commission's full report, expected in 2020, will also have to address the thorny issue of responsibility for pipeline explosions the Delta war between 2003 amd 2009. The focus of military operations was Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo, who has still to present himself in court on money-laundering charges (AC Vol 57 No 4, The great militant chase).
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