In August the 4th 2011, the United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP) have released one of the most shocking reports in the history of the institution, the UNEP environmental assessment of Ogoniland.
Ogoniland is a small portion of the Niger Delta, the largest mangrove forest in the African continent and home of about 31 million people. It is located in the south-east of Nigeria, where since more than fifty years the largest oil multinationals operate for the extraction of oil and gas.
Since 1993, Shell have closed all extraction facilities in Ogoni land. However the territory is still crossed by kilometers of pipelines of Shell property, taking the oil and gas extracted in the area to the export terminals in Bonny Island.
The UNEP report assessment is the result of a 14 months research on the environmental and health impacts of oil industry operations in the Ogoni territory.
The UNEP team examined more than 200 locations and 122 kilometers of pipelines, engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings and reviewed over 5,000 medical records. UNEP analyzed over 4,000 samples of soil, surface and ground water in 69 sites.
The outcome of the assessment have been defined as “unprecedented”. It shows that “pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed”, with concentration of benzene – a well known carcinogen- in drinking water at levels over 900 times the World Health Organization guidelines in the community of Nisisioken Ogale.
According to the report, the complete cleaning of the pollution and sustainable recovery of Ogoniland could take up to 30 years. The report recommends the Nigerian government to act establishing three new institutions that should contribute both to stop the current, ongoing contamination of Ogoniland and start the clean up and restoration of the environment.
The UNEP assessment is a first step, but according to many more needs to be done. Accurate assessment is still lacking in many communities in Ogoniland. Like Goi community, a ghost-town after the devastating oil spills occurred from Shell Trans-Niger pipeline in 2007.
Thousands of communities are awaiting for justice also in the rest of the Niger Delta region, where pollution due to regular operations by oil companies like Shell, Exxon, Eni/Agip, Total are threatening the right to life of millions of people. Among the most dangerous regular practices, gas flaring is prohibited by the Nigerian law since 1979.
However, oil companies continue to flare the gas associated to oil extraction and processing on regular basis in the Delta. Gas flaring is recognized as a major contributor to climate change and the main cause of acid rain in communities living nearby the oil facilities but also at tens of kilometers of distance.
Oil and gas are really the answer to energy needs and the need for environmental sustainability of the future?
Oil for Nothing starts from a simple question. From where does the gasoline we use every day come from? Largely from Nigeria, the Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil exporter. But one of the poorest countries in the continent. In the Niger Delta the devastating impacts of oil extraction are found everywhere. Over 50 years of oil exploitation and no benefit to local communities. A subsidiary of Eni, the Nigerian Agip Oil Corporation, started the production in 1970, and what is left after all these years? No schools, no hospitals, except a few kilometers of asphalt to get to their facilities. But not only that. Connected to the extraction process of crude oil, gas is burned 24 hours a day, flames spewing dioxins, benzene, sulphur, carcinogens, if the issue in recent decades goes hand in hand with the increase in the region of a large spectrum of respiratory diseases and cancers, not to mention the damage caused by acid rain. Nigeria, is seen today by the European Union as a strategic country for Europe’s energy security, but at what cost? Oil and gas are really the answer to our energy needs and the need for environmental sustainability of the future?