“Mobil knows the impact of oil spill and the damage it has done to aquatic life and the water table and the entire environment.”
Some youth from ExxonMobil host communities in Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State, have shut down the operations of the multinational firm over recurrent oil spills and strings of unfulfilled promises made to the communities.
The youth, who blocked the main gates to ExxonMobil’s Quo Iboe Terminal, QIT, have vowed never to leave the area until the company carries out proper remediation on the environment and also fulfilled some of the promises made during past oil spills.
David Okon, the Secretary, Youth Presidents Forum, and President of Iwuokpom community youth, where ExxonMobil has its jetty, said the most recent spill occurred on Thursday when thunder struck the QIT tank farm and one of the crude oil-laden tanks went up in flames.
Mr. Okon said several hundred barrels of crude flowed through Mkpanak community into 26 other communities in the area, spanning over 35 kilometers.
He said, “Our grievance is that since last year, there was an oil spill at the QIT that flowed from Inuaeyet Ikot village to Okposo, about 35 kilometers along the coastline towards Mbo local government area. Since then, Mobil has refused to clean up our environment. They issued and acknowledgement letter to indicate that their tank busted.
“Mobil knows the impact of oil spill and the damage it has done to aquatic life and the water table and the entire environment.
“When a major spill occurred last December, they promised to provide relief materials to our people and also pay compensation. Up till now, they have not done anything in that regard. Last week, two of the tanks got burnt and crude flowed into our communities.”
Mr. Okon said a walk along the shoreline would show dead fishes scattered all over the area, adding that it was becoming so hard for the people to fish.
He said, “People are hungry and angry and that is why we have come here to draw the attention of the world to what ExxonMobil has been doing to our communities.”
A community leader in Ibenno, Williams Mkpa, said the people of the area have an axe to grind with ExxonMobil over cases of oil spillage.
Mr. Mkpa lamented that the economic mainstay of people of the area has been greatly affected by the spill.
He said, “When similar incidents happen, the community usually agitates for cleanup and adequate compensation.
“But in its usual way, ExxonMobil has refused to respond to those requests because they don’t have the interest of the people at heart. In the past 44 years of their operations, the company only compensated us in 1998 when they declared 55 barrel spill and paid N350 million to our communities.
“Since then, there has been spillages year-after-year. Sometimes, we experience five to six spills per year and they are always very heavy, leading to the devastation of aquatic life which is our main source of livelihood.”
Mr. Mkpa also noted that the continuous flaring of gas in the area has been a major source of health concern to the people of Ibeno and its environs.
He explained that there are over 40 flare sites in less than 200 nautical miles of the shoreline bordering the community.
Aware of the effects of gas flaring to the immediate environment, Mr. Mkpa noted that ExxonMobil staff do not live in Ibeno communities but locate their housing estate in Eket, about 20 kilometers away.
Even when the state government, led by the Governor, Godswill Akpabio, intervened, Mr. Mkpa claimed the company failed to respect the agreement brokered by the government since 2012.
He also lambasted people from other parts of the country who are opposed to resource control, saying that if Ibeno people have a say in how ExxonMobl is being operated, some of the damaging impacts of their operations could have been mitigated.
He, therefore, appealed to the National Conference and the National Assembly to take urgent steps to ensure that oil producing areas in the country were given a stake in oil exploration and production.
Mr. Mkpa also claimed that over 95 per cent of staff in ExxonMobil are from other parts of the country and challenged the company to publish the list of its top management staff to show how many people from the host communities it has engaged.
When contacted, the company’s spokesperson, Akaninyene Esiere, stated that Mobil Producing Nigeria unlimited, operator of the NNPC/MPN joint venture, confirms a liquid release from its Qua Iboe terminal facility on Sunday June 29, following serious weather conditions and lightning strikes over the area.
In an email, Mr. Esiere stated, “We have activated our emergency response systems and contained the release. All relevant regulatory authorities and community leaders have been notified. We continue to work with the community to allow progress to the remediation efforts. MPN remains committed to environmentally safe operations.
“Subject to a detailed site inspection, our current estimate is that approximately 12 barrels of oil was released during the incident. All relevant regulatory authorities and community leaders have been notified.
“We are working with community leaders to gain access to the impacted area and continue to work to ensure the impacted area is remediated. Offshore production and loading operations are continuing.”
He noted that the company is working with neighbouring communities and Akwa Ibom State government to address the communities’ concerns.
“MPN regrets the weather conditions that led to the situation and appeal for the communities’ support to allow access to the beach area to complete remediation work.
“MPN is committed to sustaining a healthy business environment in Akwa Ibom State; where it serves as the largest single private employer, providing thousands of jobs in the local economy,” he stated.
The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Environment, Enobong Uwa, said the government has waded into the crisis to ensure that peace returned to the area.
He confirmed the oil spill and the concerns of the host communities in the area, noting that a meeting has been scheduled in Uyo on Wednesday between the government, the oil company, and leaders of the host communities.
“We have appealed to the community to lift the blockade and allow the company to go in and clean up the spills. We have also promised to ensure that the promises made to the community are fulfilled,” Mr. Uwa said.