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Toxic Waste: Orogun Community Battles Shell

Toxic Waste: Orogun Community Battles Shell

06.09.2008 

The Orogun community in Ughelli, Delta State is fighting the battle of its life with Shell Petroleum Development Company over an alleged pumping of waste into their environment. The outcome of the misunderstanding is not what anyone would predict asOmon-Julius Onabu writes

In the last couple of weeks, the people of the oil-bearing community of Orogun in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State have been fighting the battle of their lives. They have suddenly found themselves hand-in-gloves against multi-national oil-giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which has allegedly deceitfully and illegally pumping waste materials into the Orogun environment.

THISDAY investigation revealed that the leaders swung into action as soon as this scandal dawned; and they have accordingly drawn elaborate battle-lines not only to stop Shell in this regard, but to seek possible legal redress for adequate compensation.

Indeed, senior chiefs and opinion leaders in the community, who constitute the arrow-head of the obvious struggle to avert the possible future annihilation of the people of Orogun, have vowed to employ the entire arsenal they can muster to secure the desired victory. And, as the Orogun Council of Chiefs observed in a chat with THISDAY, the battle could not but be fierce “considering the enormous danger toxic waste poses for our people.” They regard the finding as a big embarrassment to the people of Orogun.

The people, or more appropriately their leaders, have indicated they mean business in what might turn out as a titanic duel between the community and the company. Recently “precisely on May 25, 2008 they formally asked Shell to halt forthwith the re-injection of the suspected toxic waste materials into the environment.”

As a matter of fact, the council led by an eminent jurist, retired Justices James Omo Agege said it was left with no other choice that to halt further activities at Well 33 in the area. They claimed that they have ample evidence to fear for the health and future well-being of the people of the community and even its immediate neighbours on account of the dump-site. Shell had, for the over five years it commenced the re-injection of waste materials, been deliberately deceiving the local people by insisting that the well was drilled for oil exploitation. They condemned the attitude of Shell management in offering some ignorant locals pittance while shielding the alleged criminal abuse of the people’s environment from the outside world. 

The community’s concise letter to the SPDC’s Managing Director is titled “Order to Stop Further Dumping of Waste Fluid Re-Injection Materials into Well 33 Orogun/Kokori Flow Station Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State,” the leaders maintained that “Well 33” was nothing but “Fool’s Well,” which for all intent and purposes was hazardous and of no economic benefit to the people of the area whatsoever. 

“Indeed, the existence of Shell’s so-called dry  Well 33 only reminds us of the Koko calamity, which occurred twenty years ago, but must we allow what happened in Koko to happen here,” a member one of the five-member committee set up at the council of chiefs meeting noted.  He said the leaders dreaded the possible effect of the waste the SPDC has allegedly been injecting into the contentious well since over five years to the toxic waste dumped in Koko town in the present Warri North Local Government Area twenty years ago, which led to many deaths and from which many are still suffering today.

The May 25, 2008 meeting, which was attended by prominent elders and chiefs in and outside Orogun, including Prof Fred Opute, Chief Emmanuel Ogobene, Chief George Omo Agege, Chief J.O. Akporugo, Chief Isaac Ebu and Chief Austin Ota, also set up a five-member committee to liaise with stakeholders, including the state and federal government and report back to the council regularly.  

The content of the letter, dated May 26, 2008, and signed by the committee’s chairman and secretary, respectively, Chief Chris Okpowe and Chief Isaac Ebu, reads in part: “At a meeting of the Orogun Council of Chiefs held on May 25, 2008, the above committee was directed to inform you to stop forthwith the dumping of waste fluid re-injection materials into Well 33 Orogun/Kokori flow station, a place particularly situate in Orogun land.

“It is our observation that this has caused a lot of damage to the human beings and the ecology of the entire Orogun land since the past six years that you have been carrying out this hazardous business in the area without the knowledge of the entire members of Orogun Clan. The entire Community will not be happy with you if you flout this order,” the letter said.

It was sometime between 2002 and 2003 that news filtered into Orogun and neighbouring communities that Shell has again struck oil of significant commercial quantity in Orogun land. The wild excitement that greeted the news was palpable, but that was quite understandable. Benefits to the locals of oil-bearing communities may be tokenistic or infinitesimal, but amid the pervasive poverty and misery among the ordinary people who practically sit upon the “Black Gold” in the Niger-Delta, the inevitable hand of friendship offered by the oil company would not be pushed away. Shell reportedly set about the drilling business promptly, and by 2003 expectations were rife regarding the prospect of lifting oil from yet another well in their domain. 

THISDAY gathered that at least 40 wells have been sunk in Orogun-land in the last 40 odd years, mostly by Shell. Thus, the community was quite at home with the oil workers coming into their land and probing into the earth’s bowels under their feet for valuable hydrocarbons essential. Therefore, nobody suspected the Shell’s Well 33. 

However, that was until the people began to observe that certain Shell officials or representatives had begun creeping into the community to confer secretly with certain individuals in a manner akin to the colonial era. At the same time, the people noticed to their chagrin that Shell was not lifting or tapping any crude form the contentious well. Instead, “little sums of money began changing hands,” observed one Warri-based indigene of the Orogun who confided that even his aged mother back home was given between N3 and N4 as the money from Shell to the community.

As the story told by residents of the area puts it, a handful of locals were engaged to do some odd jobs at the well, including providing security. As a matter of fact, at the turn of every year since 2003, a few bags of rice, some tins of oil and a few goats were shared out to the unsuspecting women and people in the locality. The people regarded the gifts as their own share of the usually elusive ‘National Cake’. Understandably, the people were to keep sealed lips over the strange activities of Shell around Well-33, in exchange for the so-called ‘Shell largesse.’ 

THISDAY learnt that a lot of energy and resources were, not long ago, dissipated by the people following a serious dispute over the sharing of about a dozen bags of rice and about five goats among some locals. Hell had been let loose following the disagreement and the matter ended up in court. It took the intervention of some leaders from the area to avert the matter snowballing into a conflagration.  

Instead of extraction of crude from Well-33, what the people saw regularly were powerful Ingasol Rand Compressors forcing waste products into the soil at the well. A spokesman for the Orogun Council of Chiefs and member of the five-man committee set up on the matter by the body, Chief  Ogobene, swore that Well-33 is a “Fool’s Well,” a kind of make-believe well that never really was meant to produced any oil.

Ogobene disclosed that he met stiff resistance when he attempted to probe into the strange well some few years ago. He noted that even his maternal uncle who he once lived with in Jos constituted the brick-wall. He had to back down on his plans then to extract some of the waste, somehow, for an independent laboratory test. Yet, he would not give up.

The waste material that Shell had been discharging into the Orogun soil at the so-called Well-333, he said were derived by Shell from other active wells spread across four or five local government areas in Delta State. Ogobene posed a query rhetorically: “Would you consider it a mark of love for your neighbour to defecate in his house everyday and carry the same to your own house to deposit”?

He wondered why the waste generated in another place “had to be transported across four local government areas to be deposited in Orogun.” While Shell has maintained that the waste in question was not toxic or hazardous to both plants and animals, the Orogun leaders of thought disagreed vehemently. They vowed to carry out an independent enquiry and test to determine the toxicity or otherwise of the waste Shell has been re-injecting into their environment.

Ogobene told newsmen at the weekend in Warri that the explanation was unreasonable “in view of the fact that Shell transports the waste to Well 33 in Orogun through several local government areas, from where it is generated. Moreover, if indeed the materials re-injected are not harmful, why is it that all those involved in transporting the waste are covered with special clothing and gadgets from head to toe with anti-toxic paraphernalia, and heavily armed security personnel often escort such trucks?”

http://www.thisdayonline.com/nview.php?id=113679

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