The need to respond to the problem of oil spillage is the reason behind the establishment of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). In an interview with AYONI AGBABIAKA, the director general of the agency, Idris Musa says their only constraint is amendment to its act.
Tell us about NOSDRA
Quit a number of people know NOSDRA. Those concerned with our activities know us very well. They include oil companies operating in the upstream, main stream and downstream including various communities in the oil producing states. They write complaints to us about certain activities of the oil companies working in their area. Also, all oil companies report their oil spill to us so that we can take record and watch what they do in respect of cleaning the environment where necessary. We want to be a very responsible, effective and efficient household name that people would know and be proud of to the extent that if you have problem with our environment in terms of hydrocarbon pollution, you know where to go and they would respond appropriately and immediately.
Tell us about the 2006 bill awaiting the president’s assent
The amendment which the former president did not assent during the 8th assembly sought to amend the establishment of NOSDRA. It was initially signed into law in 2006. In the course of preparing that initial act, there were a number of things that were not considered. Therefore for 14 years, we have seen those gaps that we pointed out and they are now a sort of inhibition to our mandate. To that extent, we went back to the National Assembly. In the 7th assembly, the amendment bill passed through the 1st and 2nd Reading but it never got a 3rd Reading for it to be passed. Luckily, in the 8th assembly, it was reintroduced, went through all the reading and got passed by the 8th assembly and presented to Mr President for assent. Somehow, we could not secure his assent.
Due to three main reasons as adduced by Mr President when the bill was returned to the National Assembly, for example, the bill sought to have changes in power and funding of the agency in three areas. In the case of the power of the agency, we said we needed the agency to monitor commissioning of oil facilities and the minister of petroleum resources picked up that and said if you go into that, you would be infringing on their own mandate and responsibilities. Secondly, the bill sought some kind of funding for us to take charge of our operations. Thirdly, the amendment sought for 2.5% of ecological fund as well as 0.5% of companies operational cost. In the first, the opinion expressed was that it sought to stop the power of the minister of petroleum resources. In our responsibilities, we are not saying we want to decommission any oil facility; it is not in our right to decommission oil facilities; it is the duty of the oil company to decommission any oil facility no longer useable. You decommission it because at the beginning you commissioned it. We said when you want to decommission it, let us monitor the process to assure that you remove the pipeline in a way that it would not spill residual oil into the environment and when that happens, we ensure that the company cleans up that oil impacted site. So, we are not disturbing any power by that; we are only carrying out the main mandate of the agency.
What is being done about activities of the artisanal refiners?
Artisanal refiners are not oil company operators. They steal oil from oil companies’ pipeline to cook through what they call coal fire and pour the remainder of whatever they have into the environment; in some cases into the creeks and rivers thereby making all these places inhabitable and the environment totally unsafe. That means, if it is not the responsibility of the oil company to clean such artisanal refining site whose responsibility is it? And in this case, we said government has been the conscience of the environment and the owner of the environment will have to clean up the places, but we need funds from the Ecological Fund Office to carry out the cleanup.
What is it about the ecological fund?
The 2.5 percent ecological fund was what we requested for. If you look at the Niger Delta or the oil producing areas, particularly in Rivers and Delta states, we have a number of artisanal refinery locations which the military Joint Task Force (JTF) runs after every day to kick them out. The places these refiners use for their illegal activities are the mangrove forest. We have such in, at least, 94 places, so how do we clean up these areas?
What about the issue of setting goals for 0.5% of the operational cost of oil companies?
Yes, the other one is seeking for 0.5% of the operational cost of oil companies to be set aside as a fund to be called Oil Spill Management Trust Fund (OSMTF). Today, we have a number of multinational oil companies which we call the international oil companies (IOCs) operating on our shores, deep up shore and if there should be any oil spill in the territorial waters of Nigeria along our coast line or in the deep up shore, it can drift in neighbouring countries and if such happens who will clean it up? If it drifts to our shore line, of course, it’s our shore line but some people are fishing there; some are living around the shore lines and so on. So, we would be inhibiting the lives and livelihood of the people. If it drifts to neighbouring countries and causes more problems, the country would take us up as a nation for polluting their own territorial waters and how do we prevent this if there should be a spill? What you should expect is a rapid response to make sure that you contain it and do not allow it to go far. However, where do you get funding for this? This is similar to someone without any saving and something suddenly happens and you have ultimatum the next day. So, as it is where do we get funds to respond rapidly to such, do we allow it get to our shore line or to the neighboring countries?
Tell us about the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan
We have what we call the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. It is a prerogative of the international convention on oil pollution, preparedness, response cooperation so that every nation that signs into it including Nigeria must rapidly respond to any oil spill especially in our marine environment. So, we said let us have this fund set aside so that if anything happens, let’s say there is a problem with the FSO (Floating Storage Off-take or FPSO (Floating Production Storage Off take) or tanker offshore, we have some funds to quickly respond to it. This fund, they said, should be called Oil Spill Management Trust Fund (OSMTF). To ensure that minds are at rest, such funds must be managed by a board of trustee whose members are appointed by Mr President. Even at that, annual disbursement from such funds must be by the approval of the President. So, everyone would be assured that nobody would refer such funds for anything order than the purpose for which it is meant. Now that we have made very clear the purpose for which the fund is set up and how it would be operated, we believe that by the time this bill gets back, it would be signed by the President.
What does NOSDRA expects in the oil spill management when the bill is eventually passed?
If there should be what we call Tier 3 or Tier 2 oil spill, the company that spills it can continue with their work, this agency will however arrange a process whereby that oil would be cleaned up. When we finish it, we would pass the bill to the company that was in default to settle and the money paid would go back to this fund. This is not a fund that would keep depleting until it reaches ground zero level. In America when there was a spill in Makondo, Obama directed VP to give $18 billion! Yes, because VP had such funds somewhere. That’s why we are saying we should also do our own so that when any oil company spills, we can say we need XY amount of dollars in naira denomination to clean up the mess. When we get the money, we would swing into action immediately without waiting for money from somewhere. The oil that spills is not waiting for us, it is going on as usual. If we have the fund, we would go there straight. We pass the bill to the polluter and they pay back to the fund. That makes it faster.
How does NOSDRA track oil spill in the first place?
If you read through the act, section 6 sub-section 1, says all oil companies must report their oil spill within 24 hours. While you do not report, you are infringing the law and there is penalty for that. Secondly, the report must be made to the nearest zonal office of the agency to make it easy for them. We have offices in Abuja, as the headquarters, Lagos, Akure, Warri, Port Harcourt, Yenogoa, Uyo, Lokoja, Owerri, Kaduna, Jos, and Gombe. We spread our offices across the states in the federation to ensure we have effective coverage and we are still going to create more zonal offices and field office.
Any appeal for government intervention?
The main area is the amendment of the Act. NOSDRA is not in isolation. It is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Environment which thought it wise to establish by law an agency called NOSDRA in order to focus particularly on the environmental management in the petroleum sector.