By Edu Abade
Some groups of environmental activists have insisted that multinational oil major, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) should address the ecological, health and socio-economic impacts and concerns its exploration activities have caused the Niger Delta region in over six decades before selling its dilapidated onshore assets to other companies.
Shell announced on its website and social media platform X on January 16, 2024, that it had reached an agreement to sell its Nigerian onshore subsidiary SPDC to a consortium of domestic and international oil companies for $2.8 billion. However, the finalisation of the transaction is dependent on the Federal Government’s approval.
The groups stated that as civil society organisations in Nigeria who have worked in the Niger Delta in the context of oil and gas extraction and its attendant ecological, socio-economic and health impacts, they have keenly observed the scheming by Shell to sell its onshore assets in Nigeria in spite of protestations by communities and civil society organisations.
They noted that the transaction followed similar moves by Chevron, Total-Energies and ExxonMobil to sell off “oil assets” in the Niger Delta region.
The groups are Health or Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) represented by Nnimmo Bassey, We The People represented by Ken Henshaw, Akinbode Oluwafemi of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Emem Okon of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, Tijah Bolton- Akpan (Policy Alert) and Stephen Oduware (Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence).
In a statement made available to journalists, they said: “While we acknowledge that businesses have the right to sell their assets as they see fit, we are concerned about the manner in which the transaction is carried out, as well as the immediate and long-term implications for communities and the cause of ecological justice.
The groups argued that the communities which Shell often refer to as its ‘hosts’ and have endured the impacts and inconvenience of oil extraction for over six-decades, have not been consulted or informed of the planned sale. Most of the communities only learned from the news that oil assets in their ancestral lands and rivers have been put up for sale.
“Shell has persistently engaged in irresponsible and reckless hydrocarbon extraction practices resulting in severe ecological, health and economic consequences.
Multiple inquiries have determined that the corporation and its associates are responsible for causing environmental destruction that has devastated people’s means of living, contaminated communities, and facilitated situations that violate human rights.
“Until now, the Nigerian government and its regulatory agencies have failed to come up with a guide, policy or blueprint establishing the conditions and modalities for oil company divestments. Divestments, including the latest by Shell, have happened haphazardly and in manners solely determined by oil companies, paying little or no attention to the broader ecological, economic and social impacts that their activities have bequeathed to communities.
“While Shell continues to downplay its role in the ecological damage of the Niger Delta, assessments by reputable organizations have indicted the company over environmental pollution.
In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its findings on the impacts of hydrocarbon pollution in Ogoniland, an area operated by Shell,” the statement reads.
The groups further stated that the assessment revealed severe contaminating of drinking water sources and exposure of communities to health risks, lamenting that drinking water was found to contain cancer-causing benzene 900 times above permitted levels.
“Another environmental and social impact assessment conducted in Bayelsa State showed that between 2006 and 2020, SPDC (Shell) accounted for 75 percent of oil spill incidents in the Niger Delta, which cause massive health damages, environmental pollution, loss of livelihoods and displacements.
“Findings of the assessment reveal that there is 1.5 crude oil barrels per capita pollution in the state besides some heavy metal pollution that are up to 1 million times above safe limits.
The Bayelsa State Environment and Oil Commission in a report titled: An Environmental Genocide-The Human and Environmental Costs of Big Oil in Bayelsa State, showed a 1.5 barrels per capita pollution in the state,” it said.
They maintained that given the well-established health, socio-economic and ecological impacts of Shell’s operations, it was inconceivable that the company intends to merely sell its holdings and go, insisting that the selling of assets by Shell and other oil multinationals remains an effort to evade accountability for the long-standing damages caused by oil extraction in the Niger Delta.
“It is pertinent that Shell owns up to its responsibility for the ecocidal damage of territories they have exploited.
This means full payment for the remediation and restoration of the polluted areas as well as reparations to the host communities. They cannot walk away from the grave and irreparable harm they have caused.
“In accordance with the foregoing, we strongly condemn the attempt to sale off onshore oil assets by Shell. We demand that before selling any such assets, the company must address many cases and concerns about the ecological, health, economic, and social consequences of its operations in the Niger Delta,” the statement added.
The groups, therefore, recommended that the Federal Government should immediately place a moratorium on all oil company divestment (or sale of assets) in the Niger Delta, pending the ascertaining of issues of community concern.
They demanded that Federal Government should immediately produce a framework and guide on how oil companies disengage from locations where they have operated, adding that the guide should be developed by a multi-stakeholder group including communities and civil society organisations.
“The divestment (or sale) framework must contain requirement for oil companies and the Nigeria authorities, including a scientifically developed post hydrocarbon impact assessment report that establishes the exact ecological and livelihoods impacts of oil extraction, as well as health audit of residents close to extraction sites and others exposed to oil contamination and gas flaring.
“The audit will aim at unraveling the negative health impacts of exposure to hydrocarbons, a detailed plan and costing for remediating the ecological, livelihoods and health impacts of extraction.
“It should also include the establishment of independent frameworks for remediating all identified impacts and compensation to the impacted individuals and communities and posting of funds in a designated account commensurate for the cleanup of impacted ecosystems and restoration of livelihoods,” the statement concluded.