Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan constituted a committee to review this month’s United Nations report on oil spills in Africa’s largest crude exporter, which was critical of Royal Dutch Shell and the Nigerian state-oil firm.
The special committee includes newly appointed finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the head of NNPC, Austen Oniwon. They will submit a report to the president within two weeks with their findings.
The United National Environment Programme (UNEP) analysed the damage oil pollution has done in Ogoniland, a region in the oil-rich labyrinthine creeks, swamps and waterways of the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s largest oil and gas industry, Reuters reports.
The report said the remediation needed in Ogoniland would be the biggest oil spill cleanup in history, costing an initial $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.
Shell and the Nigerian state-oil firm, NNPC, own most of the oil infrastructure in Ogoniland, although the Anglo-Dutch giant was forced out of operating in the region by communities in 1993 who said it caused pollution that destroyed their fishing environment.
The UNEP report said 10 out of the 15 investigated sites which Shell said they had completely remediated still had pollution exceeding Shell and the government’s best practise levels.
UNEP said Ogoniland communities are exposed to hydrocarbons every day as thick black oil floats around the creeks, while the impact on vegetation and fishing areas has been “disastrous.”
In one community, drinking water was contaminated with benzene, a substance known to cause cancer, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization guidelines.
Shell, which agreed this month that an Ogoni community could seek compensation for oil spills in a British court, says most oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil theft and sabotage attacks but says it cleans up whatever the cause.