Nigeria oil recovery welcome, though pollution a problem

A British representative praises the result of dialogue with militants, but frets over the lingering oil pollution legacy for the OPEC member.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Jan. 5, 2018 at 6:26 AM
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Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The rise in oil production in Nigeria is a result of peaceful solutions to conflict in action, though pollution is problematic, a British official said.

Harriet Thompson, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, gave both praise and criticism to the Nigerian government in statements made on the occasion of Ogoni Day, named in commemoration of the Ogoni people in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People began its struggle against oil operations in the region almost as soon as a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell struck oil in the late 1950s. In a landmark case at the U.S. Supreme Court, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Esther Kiobel filed a case under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law, saying her husband Barinem Kiobel was executed by the Nigerian military with the alleged backing of Shell.

The Supreme Court ruled the Alien Tort Statue doesn't give Nigerian nationals the right to sue the oil company for alleged rights abuses overseas. Amnesty International said the Ogoni movement, led by activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, remains frustrated as Nigeria grows rich on oil, while spills and related pollution have degraded their homeland.

Thompson said in remarks published Friday that the British government welcomed the estimated $1 billion dollars committed by the Nigerian government and international oil companies to clean up from their operations, though pollution was still problematic.

"I have been appalled at the level of degradation and environmental damage caused by oil pollution," she said. "The cost of pollution is enormous affecting health, livelihoods, the economy and therefore driving conflict."

Nigeria is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that's exempt from its effort to balance an oversupplied market with coordinated production cuts. Nigeria got the exemption because it needs oil revenue to support national security efforts.

In November, the long-dormant Niger Delta Avengers said a militant cease-fire was over and the next campaign would be "brutish, brutal and bloody."

The last time it took credit for an attack of note, however, was during the second week of November 2016 when it said its rebel forces attacked an export pipeline controlled in part by a Shell subsidiary that has the capacity to carry as much as 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Nigeria in November produced about 1.8 million barrels per day.

Thompson said Nigerian oil production is recovering as the federal government pursues dialogue with militant groups like the Niger Delta Avengers.

"Although progress has been slow and we would all like to see more achieved in 2018, this is a good example of how non-violent methods can achieve better, more sustainable solutions," she said.

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