NIGERIA: Oil spill blaze in Ogoni burns farms, pollutes streams
© George Osodi
The Niger Delta, Nigeria's oil producing region
LAGOS, 1 Sep 2003 (IRIN) - Crude oil from a ruptured oil pipeline caught fire, destroying farmland and polluting streams in the Ogoni area of southeastern Nigeria, residents said on Monday.
Residents of Gio, a small Ogoni community 40 km east of Port Harcourt, said they were roused from their sleep in the early hours of Friday by a loud bang as crude oil gushing from the broken pipeline caught fire.
“Large tracts of farmland belonging to the Gio community were destroyed by the fire, with the oil polluting the streams where we get our drinking water,” Levura Gbaan, one resident of Gio, told IRIN. He said the fire had died down, but it was still smouldering and had covered much of Gio and neighbouring communities in smoke and soot.
A Shell spokesman said an emergency response team sent to the site of the blaze on Friday was prevented from reaching the site by angry village youths, who demanded immediate compensation from the oil company.
He said Shell was consulting with community leaders about sending in a joint investigation team to discover the cause of the pipeline burst and arrange clean up.
Ledum Mitee, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), a minority rights group, told IRIN that the pipeline had probably been ruptured by corrosion or by oil thieves tapping into it to steal crude, an activitity known locally as bunkering.
“There have been many incidents of bunkering and stealing of crude oil in the area,” he noted.
MOSOP last week complained to the police that oil thieves in the area were being aided by armed men in police uniforms. These "policemen" had been seen escorting tanker trucks to sites where crude oil was tapped illegally from pipelines. MOSOP expressed concern that the police authorities had taken no action to halt these activities.
Shell pulled out of Ogoniland 10 years ago following violent protests by local people, angry at the environmental degradation caused by the oil industry and at their failure to share in the wealth it produced on their land.
The company’s relationship with the Ogoni community further deteriorated after MOSOP founder and renowned author, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged in 1995 along with eight other Ogoni activists on murder charges. Human rights organisations said the trial was flawed and the military government of the time pressed ahead with the executions to crack down on protests by the Ogonis, which were seen as damaging oil exports.
However, several pipelines still carry crude oil through Ogoniland from Shell oilfields in other parts of the Niger Delta to the company’s main export terminal at Bonny, on the Atlantic coast.
The Nigerian government and oil companies say up to 15 percent of the country's two million barrels per day oil production is taken illegally taken from pipelines in the Niger Delta and smuggled abroad.