A explosion caused by a leaking pipeline in Nembe kingdom of Bayelsa state in Southern Nigeria has led to a stampede, in which 50 people are yet to be accounted for. According to Chief Nengi James Eriworio, a member of the Nembe Chiefs Council, the blast caused a massive oil spillage. The Nembe truck line is operated by the Port Harcourt-based Aiteo Group and carries crude oil to Bonny export terminal. “If they turn off the oil well from the station, the pressure inside the pipeline would reduce causing the flame to burn out,” one person was heard saying in the background. Aiteo Group is yet to comment on the explosion. The pipeline is jointly owned by Agip, Oando and Shell Petroleum Development Company. Nigerian oil companies have come out strongly citing sabotage, theft and illegal refining as major causes of oil spillage.
Oil spillage is not uncommon in Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil producing country. In January this year, at least 60 people died from yet another oil explosion caused by an overturned oil tanker that exploded in Odukpani in Cross River State, per eyewitness accounts. These frequent oil spills have left the oil-rich Niger Delta region highly polluted. In 2016, host communities in the Niger Delta initiated court action in London against Royal Dutch Shell. This raised the question of whether oil companies like Shell should be sued in Britain for pollution and damages caused by their activities in other countries. According to the claimants however, ” The Nigerian legal system cannot deal with these cases and there is complete regulating failure.”
Farming and fishing communities accused Shell petroleum of several years of damage due to repetitive oil spillage in their home area. In January 2015, Shell company settled a claim of 55 million pounds to Bodo, a Nigerian community as compensation for damages caused by oil spills. Shell agreed to compensate this claim because unlike other claims, they acknowledged that the Bodo spill was caused by operational failure. Due to constant oil theft, Shell company is now gradually withdrawing from onshore areas and is focusing on offshore areas where security is easy to maintain.
With the recent explosion at Nembe Kingdom, it remains unclear as to whether the victims will be compensated and what the oil companies involved have to say about this recent unfolding. One thing of concern is how people risk their lives while fetching oil leaking from pipelines or trucks. Communities should be sensitized on the risks and repercussions involved, as this could go a long way in saving innocent lives!
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