A team of assessors from the U.K. has just returned from a fact-finding mission to the Niger Delta and has slammed Shell for failing to clean-up pollution resulting from two 2008 spills. “Next to nothing has happened and where work has commenced it has been totally amateurish,” said said Martyn Day of the London-based law firm Leigh Day, speaking to John Vidal, environment editor at The Guardian.
You can read the article, Shell attacked over four-year delay in Niger Delta oil spill clean-up, for more details on Shell’s failure to get serious about cleaning up the extensive damage from the spills.
This is merely the latest in a series of damning critiques of Shell’s failure to clean up its pollution. Shell initially denied responsibility for the spills and when the company did accept responsibility it “dramatically underestimated the quantities” of oil spilled.
The resource curse — and how to break it — has been getting some much-needed media attention lately. Unfortunately, however, we’re not getting the whole story.
SweetCrude reports that an ExxonMobil spill off the coast of Nigeria is worsening:
THE oil spill near ExxonMobil oilfield off the coast of Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State, southeast of Nigeria has spread along the shore for about 15 miles, and locals said it was killing fish they depend on to live.
Mobil Producing Nigeria, a joint venture between ExxonMobil and the state oil firm, said this month it was helping clean up an oil spill near its Ibeno field in Akwa Ibom state, though it did not know the source of the oil.
You learn all kinds of crazy things reading the news. Cameroon Online published a story from APA news on August 19th, Une firme francaise va faire de la depollution maritime au Cameroun.
According to the story, Cameroon’s Societe Nationale des Hydrocarbures (SNH, the state oil company) has signed an agreement with French company, Le Floch Dépollution, for maritime oil spill clean-up operations.
Better late than never.
I’m finally back at my desk, catching up with news and writing.
Oil watchdog Platform has published a briefing, Dirty Work, revealing Shell’s financial links to human rights abusers in Nigeria.The company spends hundreds of millions of dollars on security forces to protect its workers while the suffering of local communities continues unabated.
This briefing arrives a year after the publication of a U.N. report that slammed multinational oil companies, Shell in particular, for a half century of pollution in the Niger Delta. A recent Reuters article, A year on, Nigeria’s oil still poisons Ogoniland, describes the situation today:
Although the work I’m doing now in Cameroon is not directly related to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, I’m getting updates on the pipeline as possible.
Last week I had a meeting at the Ministry of the Environment and Conservation and learned that Cameroon is once again trying to renegotiate the transit fees it receives for pipeline use. Although most of the pipeline is in Cameroon, which means that most of the environmental risk is in Cameroon, the country benefits only minimally from the operation. Most of Cameroon’s revenues from the project come in the form of transit fees collected on the oil pumped through the pipeline. Even at the time of signing, the rate (41 cents per barrel) was low and to add insult to injury, the transit fee isn’t indexed to inflation or to the cost of oil.
In the nine years that the pipeline has been operational, Cameroon has watched the price of oil skyrocket while its meager transit fees have remained unchanged. (See my December 2010 post on the lack of transparency surrounding Cameroon’s earnings from the pipeline.)
Kosmos Ghana gets most of the attention, but since I’m in Cameroon I decided to take a look at Kosmos Energy’s operations here. The company has a 100% interest in two onshore blocks, the Ndian River and Fako. Kosmos is also a non-operating partner (with a 30% interest) in a third block, the Kombe-Isepe. The company’s website provides some basic information on the blocks, including their size: “The company’s acreage position onshore Cameroon is the equivalent of more than 200 deepwater Gulf of Mexico blocks.”
Both the Ndian River and the Fako blocks are located in the vicinity of Mount Cameroon and the proposed Mount Cameroon National Park. In fact, a significant percentage of the Fako block is inside the proposed national park (Fako is another name for Mount Cameroon). The Ndian River block may also overlap the western edge of the park. The Kombe-Isepe block is located further east, between Douala and Edea.
There’s no information on the Kosmos website to indicate that the Cameroonian blocks are located in sensitive areas.
I have a decent internet connection this morning, so I’ll take advantage of that to post some of the back and forth between Ghanaian think tank, IMANI, and the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). IMANI has recently published some interesting articles on the Jubilee field’s underperformance. In contrast to the excited tone of most of the business news about the country’s oil industry, the IMANI articles raise serious questions about the industry’s costs and prospects.
Worrying Developments in Ghana’s Oil Sector discusses production levels that are hovering around 60,000 b.p.d. The projected 120,000 barrel daily output has never been met and at this time, it is unclear when production will reach this level. IMANI has questioned both the speed of the Jubilee field development and the original production projections.
I haven’t had a chance to post anything for a few weeks. I’ve just arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon, and hope to have more time to get information up in the coming days. I’m starting some new work and will look forward to writing about it.
In the meantime, I want to provide links to a few articles up at Ghana Oil Watch. As the months go by, the Jubilee Field projected 120,000 b.p.d. output level is looking increasingly like wishful thinking. It has been hard to get clear information on why — exactly — production is so low. Tullow and its partners have repeatedly cited technical issues as the cause, yet now that those issues are supposedly resolved, why haven’t production levels increased?
I have been busy the past few weeks and haven’t had much time for posting…But today I have to take out a few minutes to repost an article from the Ghana News Agency (via Ghana Oil Watch).
It has been more than a year since I wrote about the difficult relationship between Ghana’s fishing communities and the oil industry. It seems that nothing much has changed since. The fishing communities are still waiting for an impact assessment. Fishermen say the oil industry is impacting their activities, but without any studies, they have nowhere to go with their grievances.
Continue reading . . .
Democracy Now! May 26, 2009 report on opening of trial in NY federal court over Shell’s role in 1995 execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa
Marco Simons, Legal Director at Earth Rights International, has recently written an article, US government sides with Shell over victims of crimes against humanity, which I’m posting below in its entirety.
Shell had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the company can’t be sued by Nigerians seeking damages for torture and murders committed by the national government in the early 1990s. With a U.S. government brief that supports Shell’s position, where does this leave Nigerians? The U.S. brief suggests that the Nigerians should seek redress in their own courts, as the human rights abuses occurred in Nigeria and not the U.S. This is a chilling message.
I’ve not been writing much lately — too busy with other work. But a number of articles and reports have caught my attention.
Of course, mainstream reporting on oil is generally all good news. It’s the second golden age of oil! Drill, drill, drill. Oil and gas prices will drop! We will become energy independent! Oil and gas will transform economies! Investors will see great returns!
It’s all so wonderful that you can almost forget about climate change and corruption and the fact that we’re really not seeing oil money transform economies in a positive way. Not yet, at least. Oil is bringing in money and raising GDP, but that hardly means life on the ground is getting any better for the average citizen. And, as recent reports from Ghana suggest, oil there is boosting inflation and putting downward pressure on the cedi — hardly a benefit for the people.
The Guardian reports today that two scientists “have accused BP of an attack on academic freedom after the oil company successfully subpoenaed thousands of confidential emails related to research on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.”
The accusation comes from oceanographers Richard Camilli and Christopher Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Oil’s curse sends millions abroad in search of opportunity.
I’m back from China where I spent a few weeks working with the Nigerian community of Guangzhou on a project that has nothing to do with oil. That said, oil came up in virtually every conversation I had with Nigerians: The oil money that has corrupted the country, killing off business enterprise and agriculture. The oil pollution that has ravaged the Niger Delta for decades, ruining countless lives and the environment.
Many people asked me when I would go to Nigeria to report on that country’s oil curse. Over and over again, people asked me why the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster was covered by the media and — most importantly — cleaned up, while the Niger Delta disaster is left untouched and rarely gets mentioned in the international press.
I’m writing from Guangzhou, China, where I’m spending a few days working with the city’s Nigerian community. This work is not directly related to oil, although it’s not hard to make the connection. The corrosive impact of oil on the Nigerian economy (and society more generally) comes up again and again in conversations.
How many Nigerians have left their country because of its oil-generated “wealth”?
Steve Coll’s new book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, is out and Democracy Now! has an extensive interview with him about Exxon’s dirty dealings from Indonesia to Nigeria and Chad.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview about ExxonMobil’s involvement in Chad:
Chad, of course, is a benighted country—today about 181st out of 187 countries in the human development index kept by the United Nations indicating quality of life. Life expectancy there is still below 50 years. But it has oil. And its authoritarian leader, to put it politely, Idriss Déby, decided to try to develop this oil, even though Chad was landlocked and didn’t have any national capacity to build an oil company, so they invited in Exxon and the World Bank. And they undertook this experiment, really without precedent, to require Chad to use its oil profits for the good of its people, spending on education, health and social development. And Exxon was a participant in this and described it as potentially a new model to address the resource curse in Africa, where countries that are rich in minerals but try to develop through the sale of those minerals often fail to serve their people very well. So this was a kind of a grand experiment. And it failed.
Times reporter Dan Frosch writes that the NWF study, “asserts that federal laws regulating oil pipelines are inadequate in several crucial areas and that local regulations do not provide sufficient protection against safety and environmental risks.”
The NWF report was prompted by a July 2010 rupture of an Enbridge Energy Partners oil pipeline in Michigan that spilled some 1 million gallons of crude oil, contaminating more than 30 miles of a major Lake Michigan truibutary. According to NWF, the incident, “raised health concerns and killed wildlife. It also exposed numerous weaknesses in pipeline regulation.
There’s been a flurry of excited news coming out of Ghana the past few weeks. Ghana’s growth rate hits 16%. Ghana signs the first $1 billion of its $3 billion loan agreement with China. An additional $6 billion Chinese loan is in the works. The $1.2 billion gas plant project will soon move into high gear. Vice President John Dramani Mahama says Ghana will rake in $1 billion from gas annually and that will allow Ghana to pay off the $3 billion loan ahead of schedule. He predicts the gas industry will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. (Check out Ghana Oil Watch for articles on all this and more.)
Wow! All sounds amazing, but is it too good to be true?
If you are concerned in the least about the environmental risks of drilling, don’t miss Al Jazeera’s latest feature report from the Gulf of Mexico, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists.”
This reporting is so scary — it paints a picture of devastation that flies in the face of the feel good, everything is fine, BP-sponsored “My Gulf” ad campaign. Mutant shrimp and crabs. Dead dolphins. Strange lesions and tumors on fish. Missing eyes and oil-soaked gills. Dramatic declines in catch levels since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s a nightmare and it appears that this is only just beginning.
Today Chad is facing a food crisis. An alarming number of people are hungry and sick in the northern part of the country.
The Guardian ran a story recently on the dire situation, Chad’s malnourished children offer stark illustration of Sahel food crisis.
Strangely, the article doesn’t mention the fact that Chad is an oil producing nation with sizeable oil revenues.
Chad earned more than US$2 billion in 2011 from the ExxonMobil Doba fields project. As I’ve reported, by 2008 Chad had already earned more than US$8 billion from the Chad-Cameroon oil development project. China is also drilling and refining oil in Chad. I don’t have figures for Chad’s earnings from Chinese drilling, and the Chinese-built and 60% owned refinery has been mired in conflict since it opened in June 2011. But the point remains: Chad has oil revenues, but apparently there’s not enough money to deal with the food crisis.
The Guardian is reporting that Lloyd’s of London, the world’s largest insurance market, has voiced concern about proposed offshore Arctic drilling. The company says clean-up of any spill would present, “multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”
Reading the article, several paragraphs jumped out because they could also be useful for policy makers in Africa, many of whom are jumping on the drilling bandwagon without having adequate safety and emergency response systems in place:
Richard Ward, Lloyd’s chief executive, urged companies not to “rush in [but instead to] step back and think carefully about the consequences of that action” before research was carried out and the right safety measures put in place….
Other than the direct release of pollutants… there are multiple ways in which ecosystems could be disturbed, such as the construction of pipelines and roads, noise pollution from offshore drilling, seismic survey activity or additional maritime traffic….
The two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion is just a days away, and as Bryan Walsh from Time magazine puts it, the “oil spill seems to divide people into two categories: those who can’t forget, and those who refuse to remember. In the first camp are Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists who say the region still hasn’t recovered from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and who are still waiting to be made whole—as BP once promised. In the second is much of the oil industry and many Republicans, who like to complain that offshore drilling has slowed under President Obama, yet seem to forget the multi-billion dollar damage that the oil spill left, and the months it took to repair the Macondo blowout.”
You can read more in his article, Nearly two years on, did the BP oil spill have to happen to BP?
And while we’re wondering about the inevitability of BP’s spill, Total’s North Sea gas leak appears to be much worse than originally reported:
Sitting on a powder keg of highly flammable natural gas and gas condensate, the French oil major’s rig could be one of the worst oil disasters in the North Sea. A gas cloud, made mostly of methane, has essentially enveloped the rig after attempts to shut a troubled production failed and caused a leak. If this cloud — which is growing by roughly 200,000 cubic meters a day — ignites, it could be catastrophic.
Clearly, the potential for human and environmental tragedy is the paramount concern here, much as it was with BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Once again the World Bank has signed on to a high-risk project with questionable poverty-reduction potential.
Of course, reading the press release from the World Bank, you would never guess that this project could be anything less than wonderful:
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved US$132 million in zero-interest financing for Cameroon’s Lom Pangar Hydropower Project (LPHP), to support the country’s economic development and significantly improve the supply of electricity to homes and businesses across Cameroon.
News from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is supporting what many have been saying for months: Pollution from the Deepwater Horizon spill is ongoing and harming life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Yesterday the NOAA released information on the disturbing results of its dolphin study, which found that bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico are “severely ill.”
The news was reported by the New York Times and elsewhere, but it was buried down in the environment section. The environment, dolphins, pollution — none of this seems as important as rising gas prices and the administration’s efforts to boost drilling both onshore and offshore.