Reports

Shell in Bille; unending spills and crisis

Shell’s oil Spills in Bille, in Niger Delta’s River State

Highlights

  1. Oil spills devastate rural ecology
  2. Shell’s double standards cause crisis among community people
  3. Fresh oil spill heightens tension
  4. Fresh crisis imminent

“When oil spill here, those of us who go to the mangrove forest to harvest periwinkle and other sea foods suffer. The crude oil affects the growth and development of the mangrove forest resources such as periwinkles, oysters, crabs etc. When the river is polluted they all die.”
Mrs. Ikuroma Samipe, 36 years old mother of 5 children (a fisher woman)

“We are tired of talking about spills because talking about it is very shameful, if you talk and people respond that is a different and tolerable situation. We have talked and are tired. I remember when we never had these spills, we used to go fishing and would catch fishes in very large quantities, of different types. But, today you people call it modern period and our fishes and other things are dying and hunger is killing our children and us. Is this civilization?”
Ali Omuso, 58 years fisherman and father of 14 children

“Our parents depend on fishing to feed and train us in school. These days, no matter how they double their effort in the fishing business, the catch is very low and inadequate, the Shell people should employ our parents and pay them better money since their work doesn’t allow our parents to continue their work.”
Mr. West Tomb Okoma, 20 years old student of the Rivers State College of Arts and Science (RSCAS), Port Harcourt

“Shell is causing trouble in our community. When oil spills, they refuse to compensate us and fishermen will be attacking us that we used to collect bribe from Shell. Also, they are operating on our land, they will not pay us compensation, rather they will prefer to be paying rent to our neighbours and we that suffer from their pollution will not be compensated that is why 6 July, 1999. We shut down Shell’s two flow stations on our soil and till Rivers State Government intervened. Shell has not shown enough and genuine concern towards our plight, and if they continue like this we shall tell them that our Rivers and land is our rights.”
Mr. Bruce Balafama, 38 years, father of two children, Vice-President of the Bible Youths Federation (BYF)

INTRODUCTION
Bille is a rural community in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State. Bille is an ancient autonomous community and is made up of 15 villages and 40 fishing settlements. It is about two hours drive by an outboard engine powered boat from Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. Bille is a typical salt-water riverine community with rich mangrove vegetation. The main occupation of the people is fishing. The community has a population of 30,000 peoples (Nigeria’s 1991 census). The Bille community houses two flow stations belonging to Shell and hosts their 24 well heads. Nothing less than 41,000 barrels of crude oil per day are sucked out of the bowels of the earth here, going by Shell’s conservative estimate. Shell discovered oil in Bille land in commercial quantity in 1958.

UNENDING SPILLS; ECOLOGICAL DEVASTATION/POLLUTION IN BILLE
On January 20, 1997 oil spill occurred at the Awoba flow station (now Bille II) and a large quantity of crude oil spilled into the entire EMO-PEPELYE creek causing extensive damage to the aquatic lives therein. Even the connecting creeks and mangrove forests were devastated. Shell’s contractors cleaned the spill, but no compensation was paid. The negotiation for compensation broke down between Shell and the community peoples and other events subsequently over took the process.

January 10, 1998, spill occurred at Well 9 at Awoba flow station (now Bille II). An enormous amount of crude oil was discharged into the environment, with the waters of Sombriero River conveying the sludge over a wide area.

May 29, 1998, another major spill occurred at same Well 9 at Awoba flow station. Shell’s aged pipeline “exploded” and a huge quantity of crude oil was rained into the eco-system. A day after the incidence Shell repaired the faulty facility and mopped up the affected area and paid compensation, but rural peoples told ERA that the compensation was not enough given the high level of ecological damage they suffered.

August 27, 1998 at Well 13, the delivering pipeline from Well 13 to Awoba flow station exploded and set the facility ablaze and the adjacent mangrove forest was enflamed. Several fishing traps, and nets around the affected area were burnt. There was a stampede and several community peoples in the nearby mangrove forests harvesting forest produces got wounded

On January 10, 1999 at the Awoba manifold, another spill occurred too. This spill occurred from rusty high-pressure crude oil pipes. Community people told ERA that this was a major spill. The crude oil rose up to 5 feet above ground level and poisoned the mangrove vegetation. Although community peoples told ERA that a little compensation was paid, but Shell could not clean the spill effectively.

May 18, 1999 at the Well 12 Awoba (Bille I), “a minor spill” occurred as a result of failure of Shell’s facility. The community mobilised her youths and “cleaned” the spill using rags.

The youth leader, Mr. Bruce Balafama told ERA in an interview, “The community people considers the spill minor, Shell considers it minor and the spill was neither cleaned nor compensation paid”. Experts maintain that no matter how little the volume of crude oil introduced into any vulnerable environment, like that of aquatic ecology like Bille, it will certainly cause enormous damage.

FRESH CRUDE OIL SPILL, FRESH CRISIS UNDERWAY
On November 15, 1999 at Well 7, Owoba flow station, a major spill occurred and large quantity of crude oil rained into the nearby environment. ERA field research / investigations revealed that the following complex and connecting river courses like Sombriero, Suwosuku, Kalabille and Bille creeks are subject to tidal regimes and the following communities were affected, like Ama, Oru-ama, Tumba-Ama, Obow-Ama, Ikiri Kama, Aguama, and Kala Eke-Ama. Although, the family facility has been repaired and the affected facility cleaned but the far-flung communities affected in the path of tidal waves were not cleaned. The current spill is a major one, which even Shell admitted to the community, was caused by their facility failure and, not sabotage as they used to tell community people.

EFFECTS OF THE SPILLS
ERA findings in the area revealed that Shell facilities criss-crossed the extensive network of creeks and mangrove swamp/salt march in the area.

The fishes and other aquatic organism in the area use the food-rich estuary and creeks as nursery and feeding grounds and spend their adulthood in the nearby ocean, but the oil spills have driven them away. Experts argue that oil spillages is not likely to cause any significant direct mortality to pelagic fish (Mcintyre, 1982). ERA finding revealed that some species, however, may avoid the polluted area for a few weeks. Species which spawn in the estuary may suffer mortality of egg or larvae.

Also, there are bottom-feeding, predatory species. The fishes are caught mainly with hooks, the shrimp by beach seining. Oil spill is not normally expected to impact these species directly, since they are subtidal. However, fishing activity will be affected by any damage to bait organisms. Crude oil contamination of the intertidal mangrove swamps will result in high mortalities of crabs, and certain fish, including their intertidal eggs; mudskippers, etc. The effects of spills will persist at least for several months. Polluted mangrove mud will also pollute intertidal puddles and shorelines for weeks or months, affecting the tilapia and mullet inhabiting the puddles. The residual oil will likely cause fin rot and some consequent mortality, mainly in tilapias and top minnows for up to several months (Powell, 1987).

SHELL AS A CORPORATE CITIZEN OF BILLE
Facilities belonging to Shell occupy almost half of Bille community. The facilities are located in closed proximity to human habitation (about half a kilometer away from the community).

Despite the huge presence of Shell Bille lacks portable water, electricity, employment, etc. The facilities are enjoying light and water, Shell should extend to its community (Shell is a corporate citizen).

ERA’S RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Shell should under take an immediate and thorough cleaning of the impacted areas.
  2. Shell should provide immediate relief materials and compensations to the community.
  3. Shell should replace all old facilities there.
  4. Shell should behave and operate in the Bille community as a corporate citizen.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Write letters to Shell on the plight of the Bille people and the hardship of its facilities and operations has caused the people.
  2. Send copies of your letter to your local newspapers.
  3. Write to your legislators/law makers representing your constituency, and request them to take keener interest in environmental issues and also to remind Shell of their over-advertised community development projects.

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