Thursday, August 11, 2011

UNEP Ogoniland Oil Assessment Reveals Extent of Environmental Contamination and Threats to Human Health - United Nations Environment Programme
The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.

A major new independent scientific assessment, carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), shows that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed. 

The assessment has been unprecedented. Over a 14-month period, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings. 

Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana local government area (LGA) to 79 hectares (Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme LGA). 

Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analyzed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.

Key Findings:
Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and reduce the risks to affected communities should occur without delay says UNEP's Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.
In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened, according to the assessment that was released today. 

In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. The site is close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline. 

UNEP scientists found an 8 cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater which serves the wells. This was reportedly linked to an oil spill which occurred more than six years ago. 

While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts. 

While some on-the-ground results could be immediate, overall the report estimates that countering and cleaning up the pollution and catalyzing a sustainable recovery of Ogoniland could take 25 to 30 years.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said the report provided the scientific basis on which a long overdue and concerted environmental restoration of Ogoniland, a kingdom in Nigeria's Niger Delta region, can begin.

"It is UNEP's hope that the findings can break the decades of deadlock in the region and provide the foundation upon which trust can be built and action undertaken to remedy the multiple health and sustainable development issues facing people in Ogoniland. In addition it offers a blueprint for how the oil industry-and public regulatory authorities- might operate more responsibly in Africa and beyond at a time of increasing production and exploration across many parts of the Continent," said Mr Steiner.

Among its other findings are:-
  • Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell Petroleum Development Company's own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues.
  • The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation has been disastrous. Oil pollution in many intertidal creeks has left mangroves-nurseries for fish and natural pollution filters- denuded of leaves and stems with roots coated in a layer of bitumen-type substance sometimes one centimetre or more thick.
  • The five highest concentrations of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons detected in groundwater exceed 1 million micrograms per litre (µg/l) - compared to the Nigerian standard for groundwater of 600 µg/l.
  • When an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land, making remediation or revegetation difficult. At some sites, a crust of ash and tar has been in place for several decades.
  • The surface water throughout the creeks in and surrounding Ogoniland contain hydrocarbons. Floating layers of oil vary from thick black oil to thin sheens.
  • Despite community concerns, the results show that fish consumption in Ogoniland, either of those caught locally or purchased from markets, was not posing a health risk.
The report says that fish tend to leave polluted areas in search of cleaner water. However, the fisheries sector is suffering due to the destruction of fish habitat and highly persistent contamination of many creeks. Where entrepreneurs have established fish farms for example their businesses have been ruined by an "ever-present" layer of floating oil.
  • The Ogoni community is exposed to hydrocarbons every day through multiple routes. While the impact of individual contaminated land sites tends to be localized, air pollution related to oil industry operations is all pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to one million people.
  • Artisanal refining (a practice whereby crude oil illegally obtained from oil industry operations is refined in primitive stills), is endangering lives and ultimately causing pockets of environmental devastation in Ogoniland and neighbouring areas.
Remote sensing revealed that in Bodo West, in Bonny LGA, an increase in artisanal refining between 2007 and 2011 has been accompanied by a 10% loss of healthy mangrove cover - or over 307,380 square metres.
  • Remediation by enhanced natural attenuation (RENA) - a way of boosting the ability of naturally-occuring microbes to breakdown oil and so far the only remediation method observed by UNEP in Ogoniland - has not proven to be effective.
Currently, SPDC applies this technique on the land surface layer only, based on the assumption that given the kind of oil concerned, factors such as temperature and an underlying layer of clay, hydrocarbons will not move deeper. However, in 49 cases UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 m.

Next Steps/Recommendations
Through a combination of approaches, individual contaminated land areas in Ogoniland can be cleaned up within five years, while the restoration of heavily-impacted mangrove stands and swamplands will take up to 30 years. 

However, according to the report, all sources of ongoing contamination must be brought to an end before the clean-up of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin. 

The report recommends establishing three new institutions in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental restoration exercise. 

The report outlined $1,012,448,650 in preliminary estimated costs as follows
1. Emergency Measures (80 % for providing alternative drinking water to communities with contaminated water supply) - $63,750,000
2. Clean up of Land contamination - $611,466,100
3. Clean up of Benzene and MTBE Contamination and Nsisioken Ogale - $50,000,000
4. Clean up of Sediments - $20,000,000
5. Restoration of Artisanal Refining Sites - $99,452,700
6. Mangrove restoration and rehabilitation - $25,500,000
7. Surveillance and Monitoring - $21,468,000
8. Ogoniland Restoration Authority - $44,000,000
9. Center for Excellence in Restoration - $18,600,000
10. Alternative Employment to those in Artisanal Refining - $10,000,000
11. Third party Verification and International Expert Support to implementation recommendations @ 5 % - $48,211,840

The final clean-up costs are likely to be different, indeed much higher, for the following reasons:
1. Full environmental restoration of Ogoniland will be a project which will take around 25-30 years to complete, after the ongoing pollution has been brought to an end. The current cost estimates are operational costs of the new institutions over the first five years.
2. The clean-up costs for contaminated soil, a key component of the overall costs, will depend substantially on the remediation standards set. A more stringent standard will lead to higher
clean-up costs.
3. The cost of clean-up of groundwater is not included in this costing (except for Nsisioken Ogale). The clean-up objectives, standards and target will first need to be decided before a volume estimate and associated costing can be attempted.
4. No estimate is given for the clean-up of surface water. It is assumed that once the ongoing input of oil into the surface water is stopped, natural process will flush the floating oil. However, in locations where there is not enough water exchange, intervention will be needed for the clean-up.
5. The response and clean-up costs for any new spills, or newly discovered spills, simply cannot be estimated
6. Land will need to be leased to establish the Integrated Contaminated Soil Treatment Centre and mini treatment centres in situ. The cost of land acquisition is not included.
7. The report recommends a set of asset integrity actions for the oil industry, which include better securing of the facilities and proper decommissioning of abandoned facilities. These costs also are not included above.
8. A major cost item will be the restoration of mangroves and forests within the creeks around Ogoniland. The current estimates are limited to a pilot area of impacted mangroves and forests around the Bodo West oil field facilities.

The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland report is available online at:
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
Press Release dated August 4, 2011

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