Location: Okpotuwari community, Southern Ijaw local government area, Bayelsa State.
GPS Coordinate:  Elev  0 m   N 04°45.742’ E 005°58.683’
Date of Visit: 7th June, 2014 [Saturday].
Photo: Collecting samples for ERA/FoEN

Okpotuwari is an Ijaw community in Olodiama clan of Southern Ijaw local government area, Bayelsa State. Like what the Ijaws are known for; the traditional occupation of the Okpotuwari community folks are fishing, farming, hunting, palm wine tapping and local gen brewing; amongst others. Agip’s Tebidaba –Ogboinbiri pipeline traverse the community environment and, there has been oil spills along this pipeline in the past leading to the destruction of the resources the people depend on: ponds, lake, farmlands, raffia trees and other economic trees in the bush; made worse by accompanying fire and flood during the rainy season.

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria [ERA/FoEN] received information of a fresh oil spill within the community environment and decided to visit with a view to be led to the site. On the 7th of June, 2014 ERA/FoEN field monitors visited the site led by the Vice-Chairman of the Community Development Committee[CDC] and the Project Officer of Ondewari Health Education and Environmental Project [OHEEP]. ERA/FoEN was informed about what actually led to the spill and, how Agip came to clamp the spill point and left without being accompanied by anyone representing the regulatory agencies and, hence even the community was not officially informed by Agip before the clamping.

After a quick observation of the spill site and interview right there; the visit to the spill site was concluded. The Testimony is below:

Michael Joseph, Vice-Chairman of the Community Development Committee

…It was on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014 that information reached us in the community that crude oil is spewing seriously along this section of Agip’s pipeline. You know our people are farmers and fisher folks; besides the fact that this is the season people go into the bush to pick bush mango. So, people always move in and out of the bush and sometimes they move along the pipeline or cross it as they go about their objects of interest in the environment.  We later found out that it was the hand work of some unknown persons who wanted to open up a point on the oil bearing pipeline with the intention to siphon crude oil. We cannot tell what actually drove such persons into this act, but it may not be unconnected with certain grievances relating to neglect of the community by the authorities and government; and poverty.

However, when we rushed down here to confirm the incident; we discovered that those who caused the spill would have succeeded in establishing a point of crude oil siphoning here; but unfortunately for them they were overwhelmed by the pressure with which the crude oil gushed out and spraying into the environment. Sadly, this has negative impacted our swamps and farmlands; including ponds as the crude oil spreads in length and width  on either sides of the pipeline. We, the CDC leadership called Agip that same day, 27th May, 2014 and informed the company of what we have observed in our environment; that there was oil spill along the pipeline.

It was amazing that even though we promptly called and informed Agip, they failed to take positive steps immediately until it was just yesterday, being 6th June, 2014 that they stealthily came to the site to effect clamping of the spill point. Yes, I say stealthily because they never informed the community leadership in any form that they were coming into our environment. This was very wrong and we condemn it. If anything negative happened to them while they were in our bush without our knowledge; won’t the government hold us responsible for what we don’t know?  They came with a soldier and some members of Bayelsa Volunteers. There were no representatives of NOSDRA, Ministry of Environment and other JIV stakeholders; not even the community. And, even though the Bayelsa Volunteer also came with them to clamp the ruptured spot [as security], they were afraid when I heard of the presence of strangers in our bush and appeared at the spot. They explained to me that their presence was for good and not to undermine the community; besides being fellow Ijaws and the fact that they are doing what government commissioned them to do.

Another thing is that they came here late with the Swam Buggie from Ogboinbiri. They worked here until about 12 mid-night before they completed the task and left. There was nothing like JIV. I personally asked the head of the Agip team whether they came along with any representatives of NOSDRA or Ministry of Environment. After laughing, he replied that the only the Bayelsa Volunteer people came with Agip.  The only  armed soldier who escorted them expressed displeasure as to why the community was not notified before the company came to repair the leaking spot; he said it wasn’t proper and these are they sort of things that result into conflict and attract negative image to the oil companies and those providing security.

It is unfortunate to note what resulted to the current oil spill in the Okpotuwari environment, as the leadership of the community had always condemned and warned against any attempt at sabotaging oil pipelines and lamented the negative consequences oil spill in the community environment. Incidentally, this current spill has re-impacted a site previously impacted by oil spill/fire. Be that as it may, one of the known facts about oil spills is that, Joint Investigation team comprising of the relevant stakeholders [NOSDRA, DPR, MoE, Community, oil company and security, etc] normally visits the spill site and come out with a JIV report indicating or detailing what happened/caused the spill and related details. Or, are there exceptions?  Two wrongs cannot make a right and so; if Agip failed to formally inform the community and other stakeholders before going to site for clamping [almost two weeks after they knew about the spill], Agip is culpable here. If there are exceptions to the rule it is important to let the public know which kinds fall within the list of exceptionally cases. However, one thing is very certain about all spills; they MUST be cleaned up by the owners of the facility; no matter the cause of spill. And so, what Agip intends to do after it has clamped the spill point and left becomes pertinent to know, especially as there was no JIV by stakeholders to recommend timely clean-up after clamping, considering the rainy season and possibility of further spread of crude oil in the swamp. Already the crude oil has spread far away from the spill point, impacting vegetation and land/swamp on both sides of the pipeline Right Of Way.

As testified by the Michael Joseph, during ERA/FoEN field monitor’s visit to the spill site; community folks; including children were seen in the bush going about their economic activities; picking bush mango and farming/fishing. They waded through water some times as they went about their business. This confirms the increasing level of water in the bush and, unless the spill is timely cleaned, it will continue to spread in the environment and further cause more harm to the people and environment in terms of their health and livelihood.

1     Agip mobilizes to the Okpotuwari spill impacted site and carry out clean –up without further delays.
2    Agip does not to breach protocols by relying on Bayelsa Volunteers when entering community bush/forest. The members of Bayelsa Volunteers all have their own individual communities and, being in that body does not make them members of every community in the state; they should do the right thing as they go about their Volunteer job.
3    A JIV and as such; the regulatory agencies should insist and demand this JIV; even the community. The authorities should take steps to ensure the clean-up of impacted environment.
4    Agip engage security surveillance on this pipeline.
5    The community leadership also take the necessary steps to sensitise youths and other members of the community against such acts that leads to harm their environment.

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Photo Speak

ERA has recently received information that a group calling itself the "Niger Delta Coalition in the Diaspora" is still engaging itself in activities and communications giving the impression that it is linked with Environmental Rights Action (ERA).

This group issues out communications using ERA's headquarter address and mail box. We have never had any ties with this group and any views, comments or opinions expressed by them is not endorsed or authorized by any member of management or staff of ERA.

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Is there a spill, pipeline rupture, fire, gas flare, water, land or air pollution in your community or one you know about? Do you need assistance to respond, and prevent future occurrences or have you noticed any activity that threatens the environment?

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