Multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria, Tuesday picked holes in a bill seeking to amend the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency(NOSDRA) Act.
The bill seeks to give additional responsibilities to NOSDRA and enhance its capacity to enforce the law on oil spill and punish culprits.
But the oil companies described the bill as unfair and an attempt to impose excessive penalties on them even on incidents beyond their control as operators in the oil and gas sector.
The Managing Director, Mobil Nigeria, Mr. Mark Ward, who made the position of the oil companies known at the stakeholders session, said the bill did not take into consideration, a situation where oil firms could declare force majeur as a result of unforeseen business challenges.
Ward, who was represented by Mr. Jide Ayo Vaughn, an Executive Director with Mobil, argued that it would be unfair for NOSDRA to compel an oil firm to pay for an oil spill that was not caused by the operator or owner of a facility.
He also argued that it would be unfair for different quantities of spill to attract the same fine even though they may have varied levels of impact on the environment.
The oil firms also argued that the bill appeared to be a ploy to transfer the funding of NOSDRA from the federal government to the oil companies through the imposition of excessive penalties on the companies.
They proposed an alternative system of “fair and reasonable” fines and penalties calculated through a transparent process with evidence of oil spills and not based on guesswork.
The amendment bill, they further argued, would lead to overlapping and duplication of roles between NOSDRA and other agencies such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Ministry of Environment on the issue of oil spills.
However, the Director General of NOSDRA, Mr. Peter Idabo, disclosed that the penalties were fair.
The penalties, he noted, would serve as a deterrent to firms that have the practice of not reporting spills in their operations.
The new legislation provide for fines and penalties of N5 million per day in case of failure to report oil spill after 24 hours and N50 million in case of failure to clean up spills.
The Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon. Uche Ekwunife, said the bill had become necessary because communities have had running battles on the issue of compensation whenever spills occurred and destroyed the environment.
She said the interaction was not meant to take sides with NOSDRA or muzzle any one but to come out with an amendment bill that would not only be acceptable to all and bring benefit to the country.