Brass insists on UN-led experts over 40-year-old canal pollution

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The process for the eventual  remediation  of ecological  disruption in  Brass Kingdom,  Brass Local Government Area of  Bayelsa State, may have begun as the  community chiefs, elders and stakeholders insist on the engagement of world class independent assessors to investigate and assess the extent of the cumulative impact of environmental damage suffered by the Kingdom.

The kingdom has suffered over 40 years of the exploitation and exploration of oil and other activities by the Nigeria Agip Oil Company ( NAOC) in the area,  especially the negative effect of the artificial canals and dug-out pits used in the discharge of effluents from its operation in the community since the early 1970’s.

The people are also calling on the international community, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), to compel NAOC to enforce and implement comprehensive remediation, restoration and safeguard programme based on credible impact study and adequate valuation-based compensation and other remedies to entrench environmental justice .

Peeved by the insensitivity of the oil multinational after failed attempts to get its management to review the environmental challenges and pollution threat in the area, the community through its legal representative, Barrister Iniruo Wills, on 24th of January petitioned NAOC in a letter addressed to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr Ibe Kachukwu.

Mr Wills and a team of environment experts had made presentations to the Petroleum Minster, drawing his attention to the damage done in the community as a result of the effluent discharged continually on a daily basis for over 40 years.

The most egregious damage was wrought on the Brass river which serves the people through an artificial canal dug by the NAOC in the 1970’s.

Moved by the severity and imminent danger the reported pollution threat posed to the Community, the Minister of State,  Petroleum Resources , empanelled  a Joint Ministerial visitation Committee, to investigate the issues raised  at the NAOC terminal located at Brass to ascertain* the impact of the pollution threat.

The Visitation team led by Mrs N O Jipreze, Director of Legal Services in the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, with other members drawn from the Federal Ministry of Environment, NOSDRA, DPR and NPDC in collaboration with the Management of NAOC embarked on the tour of the facilities on the 6th of March.

However the glaring absence of the petitioner which was read as deliberate exclusion heightened suspicion that the management of NAOC have some facts to hide.

The community in its petition had claimed  that the operations at the Brass Terminal and its continuous effluent discharge has negatively impacted the Brass estuary, contaminated the soil and ground water and perennially affected air quality.

The Amayanabo of Twon Brass, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, during a courtesy call by the investigative panel at his palace in Twon Brass, disclosed that there was a Memorandum of Understanding ( M.o.U) between the NAOC and the community at the time of the excavation of the canal when the company  was given the license to start operation in Brass.

He said the M.o.U spelt out the conditions in which the canal and effluent from the export process will be managed. One of the items of agreement, according to the King, was the engagement of Independent International assessors separately by NAOC and the Brass Kingdom for a periodic assessment of the impact of the activities of the oil giant.

According to the King, the exercise has not been undertaken in the past 40 years. He however expressed the hope that with a ministerial visitation, the process of the assessment has begun..

Mrs Jipreze had assured the Monarch that the team will critically examine the findings of the investigation with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problems.

Mr Dan-Jombo, the Operational Divisional Manager, NAOC, who led the investigation at the terminal, said that they had done their work diligently and hope to report accordingly.

Mr Wills had during his presentation to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources last June disclosed that because the Brass Terminal houses major facilities for dehydration, treatment and other ancillary activities that precede the export of crude oil at the loading platform, it generates waste such as tank bottom sludge, oily waste, highly saline brines and other petroleum hydrocarbons contaminants.

According to him the dewatering process produces up to 150,000 barrels of produce water per day discharged through the Brass Canal.

He said the total petroleum hydrocarbon concentration within the Brass canal ranges from 17,800mg/kg, to 88,500mg/kg which exceed the intervention value of 5000mg/kg set out in EGASPIN.

With linkage of these activities coupled with the alarming erosion of the Brass shoreline, the natural coral barrier has been progressively damaged by the over 40 years daily contaminants discharged into the estuary, causing accelerated  erosion.

The community representative explained that even when the community had made careful observation over the years and raised a red flag that there is an environmental challenge in the community, and in spite of repeated engagement with NAOC, the company management had always insisted that they were operating in line with international best practice.

The 1.5km long effluent canal dug by NAOC empties into the Brass River, passing through the community’s ancestral forest.

An environmental expert and a consultant to the community, Dr Ferdinand Giadom, had explained that in the course of the operation of the Brass Terminal over the years,  a lot of contaminants have been released  into the canal and  that this has come as sludge and sediment at the bottom of the canal.

Giadom  said because of the  nature of the  Brass Island  and the location of the  facilities,  there is hydraulic connectivity between the canal  and the surroundings, being that  periodically the tank bottom sludge were washed  and released down the canal.

According to him the effluent released through the canal to the Brass River has the potential of affecting the quality of life  within the Brass area and also the coastal ecosystem as the contaminants involved are very toxic and it has been proven that it could be carcinogenic and erotogenic with a significant risk of degenerating human health.

Mr Woyengikuro Agadah, a former director  at  the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, said the problem was that the Nigeria Agip Oil Company must accept the fact their activities have been polluting the environment and that the extent of the  damage can only be determined through scientific methods.

He said the scientific process involves the collection of sample soil, water, plant, fish and other materials to establish if the samples were tainted.

Mr Lewis Tari, a youth in the kingdom explained that the controversy generated by the functionality of the canal should be blamed on the NAOC since they have decided to adopt divide and rule approach to cause confusion in the community.

Tari said the oil multinational knows the right thing to do but that they were playing politics with the community as they preferred a situation where the community was in disharmony.