Bonga field: Back to business as usual

January 3, 2012. Oil from the Bonga spill? Photo: AFP

LAGOS, Nigeria — Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Nigerian subsidiary says it has resumed production at a 200,000 barrel-per-day oil field after containing the worst Nigeria offshore spill in more than a decade.

Spokesman Tony Okonedo said in a statement Thursday that steps had first been taken to ensure it was safe to restart production at the Bonga deep-water oil field.

That’s the word from the Associated Press.  Reuters adds a bit more information:

Nigerian villagers say oil from the spill at Bonga, 120 km offshore, had washed up on the coast, blackening stretches of it and killing fish, but Shell has denied that the oil could be from the Bonga facility.

“Satellite and aerial imagery has confirmed that the Bonga oil leak could not have reached coastlines in the eastern Niger Delta,” the statement said, adding that the oil washing up on the coast must have been a “third party spill”.

Spills by all oil companies operating in the region are common, and it is sometimes hard to tell where they originate.

So, Shell has resumed drilling and there will be no problems meeting demand and as for the fishermen, well, their misfortune isn’t Shell’s problem.

The Nigerian maritime authorities are calling for help for the impacted fishing communities. Nigerian officials are threatening to sanction Shell, reminding the company of its obligations under the “polluter pays principle.” The problem is that under that principle, Shell must clean up any pollution it causes, but is not required to compensate fishermen for lost revenues. And, in any case, Shell denies that it has anything to do with the oil that has washed up on shore.

Ghana should watch this case closely. Every official I’ve spoken with cites “polluter pays” as the answer to the question of what will happen in the event of a spill.

Regarding the photo above, when I saw this image I was struck by the quantity of oil. This isn’t just a bit of oil that has washed ashore. It’s a mess. How hard is it really to determine where that oil came from?  Could this much oil be the result of a bilge dump? How can Shell be certain that all of the oil spilled at the Bonga field was “contained” just miles before hitting land?

The Nigerian organization Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth has been gathering testimony from local fishermen who say the oil has been floating at sea for at least a week.

In any case, there are many unanswered questions, which, unfortunately may not be resolved any time soon. But one thing is certain: as usual, the poor fishing communities who get nothing from the oil suffer when there’s a spill.





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