Title: Gas Flaring and Threat of Overflow at Agip’sOgboinbiri Flow Station
Location: Ogboinbiri Community, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area,
Occupation: Fishing and farming.
Accessibility: Community can be accessed only by helicopter or marine vessels.
Highlight:  Health Centre in the community too expensive to access by locals.
 No portable water by Agip or Government for the community.
Date of This ERA/FoEN Field Report: 21st February 2021.
Report By: Alagoa Morris
Ogboinbiri is one of the communities in Apoi clan in Southern Ijaw LGA of Bayelsa State. An oil rich community, it is host to Agip’s Ogboinbiri flow station where the company has continued to flare gas over the years and on 24/7 basis.
A 2005 research which culminated in a publication in Amsterdam, the Netherlands [in June] entitled ‘’Gas Flaring in Nigeria: A Human Rights, Environmental and Economic Monstrosity’’ identified 17 onshore flow stations in Bayelsa State; including the Ogboinbiri flow station.
Jonah Gbemre vs Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Attorney-General of the Federation is one of the cases in the Nigerian judicial milieu most cited with regards to oil industry induced pollution and human rights; especially gas flaring.
Relying on the Nigerian Constitution and African Charter, the plaintiff had approached the Benin Judicial Division Federal High Court with a view to enforce his fundamental human right and that of fellow community folks of Iwherekan], alleging that their rights to life and human dignity as guaranteed by the national and continental instruments have been violated by the routine gas flaring in the Iwherekan community environment. Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right states that ‘’All peoples shall have the right to a generally satisfactory environment favourable to their development’’.
Gas flaring is the practice of burning off associated natural gas during oil production. And even though routine flaring had been outlawed since 1984, allowed only by ministerial permit and not routinely, oil industry operators in Nigeria have continued to flare gas daily. The fact that they pay fines for flaring is an obvious testimony that they have been flaring gas on the wrong side of the law of the land. However, in Jonah Gbewre vs Shell and others, suit No: FHC/B/CS/53/05, 14 November 2005, the judgment delivered by Justice Nwokorie stated in part,’’ I hereby order that the 1st and 2nd respondents are accordingly restrained whether by themselves, their servants or workers or otherwise from further flaring of gas in the applicants’ community and are to take immediate steps to stop the further flaring of gas in the applicant’s community. The Honorable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, 3rd respondent in these proceedings who, regrettably, did not put up any appearance, and/or defend these proceedings is hereby ordered to immediately set into motion, after due consultation with the Federal Executive Council, necessary processes for the Enactment of a Bill for an Act of the National Assembly for the speedy amendment of the relevant sections of the Associated Gas Re-Injection Act and the Regulations made there under to quickly bring them in line with the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Constitution ,especially in view of thefact that Associated Gas Re-Injection Act even by itself also makes the said continuous gas flaring a crime having prescribed penalties in respect thereto. Accordingly, the case as put forward by the 1st and 2nd respondents as well as their various preliminary objections, are hereby dismissed as lacking merit. This is the final judgment of the Court and I make no award or damages or compensations whatsoever.’’
OGBOINBIRI, A SPECIAL CASE
There are two gas flare stacks at the Ogboinbiri flow station. ERA/FoEN has been a leading advocacy group in the country demanding for an end to gas flaring. This is in consideration of the negative environmental impacts relating to the health of the people and effect of greenhouse gases and economic implications of wasting the finite resource. As a grassroots organization without discrimination, ERA/FoEN had visited Ogboinbiri community in connection with gas flaring in 2010. However, the need to take another look at the community folks and gas being flared in the environment became most auspicious and prompted this field trip and report.
TESTIMONIES: Testimonies from the community indicate discomfort, fear, neglect and abandonment to fate by a government that should protect them.
On July 22, 2019, a community folk who could only be identified as ‘’Contact B’’ sent photos and video clips to ERA/FoEN with a text which read thus, In this situation, there is too much PSI which is making the gas to overflow; the gas to burn in the air. If you are in Amassoma at night, one can see it. Even all our neighbouring communities can see the shade of the flare.
The same person sent in words at about 1:34a.m on September 13, 2019, ‘’
We had a power blackout as gas overflow due to high pressure [PSI]. Everyone came out with one hand on their children, babies on mothers’ back, as community was threatened by unexpected explosion from the gas plant. Information got to us that even the personnel in the plant ran for their own safety while attempting to calm the situation. If you listen carefully [the video clip sent via whatsapp], you will find out that the noise you will hear is like a roaring lion. Our building roofs and entire earth were vibrating at the same time of incident. All neighboring communities around can also be brightened when [this] occurs as it was over 150 meters above the ground level up to the sky. It will be a good case to pursue but due to sentiments, I do not know how we can engage each other and go for it…as environment concern and for our good living. Honestly, we can’t keep our two eyes closed at night when sleeping when it occurs because we don’t know when it will happen, though we don’t pray for such. It’s a really big threat to our dear lives. This was far worse than the first ones I sent to you months back…so terrifying…’’
At 10:51a.m, February 13, 2021, the same person sent [with photos and video clip] this message, “This is what is currently happening in Ogboinbiri from Agip gas plant. Weather [atmospheric] pollution endangering the lives of host community and the Ozon layer. Can you see them [the pictures]? It’s over one hour now. Due to pressure, they [Agip] have cut off electricity power supply. The community is so hot, facing extreme heat. All our building roofs are damaged. Our source of drinking water, which is rain, is polluted. We have no Agip water project to fetch water. Our respiratory system is damaging gradually. We cry for help.’’
Asked whether the health centre built and equipped by Agip for the community was working, he replied that the cost is beyond what community members can afford. ‘’ Yes, but drugs, we can’t afford the medical bills as it is costly. Please if you can publish this for us, I will be glad.’’
‘’Contact G’’, another community folk reached out from the community at9:22pm of May 11, 2020, confirming the overflowing of the gas flaring with these words,’ “Sir, the flare was overflowing this evening; I tried to capture it though. Because of the overflow the light is off till now. I even missed it a bit; it was higher than that [referring to photos of the flare].
‘’Contact B’’, who was a former community development committee, CDC chairman of the community, asked if he could confirm the gas flare overflow incident of February 13, 2021, replied, “Yes, true. For years now, that is why I was demanding for post-impact assessment during my tenure but no time.’’
According to him, the need for post impact assessment was conveyed through letters. “Yes, letters. We really need the post impact assessment. Our zinc roofs corrode fast.’’
The former CDC chairman also confirmed the high cost of accessing health services at the health center so community members resort to local herbs.
He said, “Yes. The facility is even too expensive, so they use herbs more.’’
Another community folk, ‘’Contact A’’ said of the gas flare overflow incident in the community, ‘’ I do not live in the community but I have experienced it on more than one occasion when the flame goes up, brightening the whole community and caused people to run helter-skelter for safety. It is so frightening that when I first experienced it; I thought the flow station has blown up. But it will stay like that from 10-15 minutes before things return to normal.
“Such a report from you would be a welcome idea. Our community leaders only know how to receive peanuts from the companies and forget the rest of indigenous people.’’
According to the Canadian Public Health Association, there have been over 250 identified toxins released from flaring including carcinogens such as benzopyrene, benzene, carbon disulphide, carbonyl sulphide and toluene; metals such as mercury, arsenic and chromium; sour gas with H2S and SO2, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide; and methane which contribute to the greenhouse gases’’. Ogboinbiri community is subjected to all of these in addition to oil spills polluting their river and swamps.
The fact that oil companies are paying fines for the different volumes of gas flared daily in the country is derived from the 1984 law [Gas Re-Injection Act] which outlawed gas flaring, making the act illegal. It is on record that the Federal Government in reaction to pressure from stakeholders has shifted the goal post of ending gas flaring in Nigeria again and again. At the expense of victims of the negative impacts, the Federal Government, 36 state governments, the Federal Capital Territory and 774 local governments in the country, are sharing proceeds [fines] from the toxic flares in the oilfields.
Apart from the threatening ‘’Overflowing’’ occasioned by pressure, the observations made by the people of Ogboinbiri, to ERA’s Alagoa Morris, are not different from environmental testimonies obtained from other communities in relation to gas flaring. These include the vibration of buildings and roofs, pollution of sources of drinking water, destruction of roofing sheets, poorer crop yield, health concerns, and roaring of the flares which cause panic sometimes, etc.
From ERA/FoEN records, communities such as Idu-Obosiukwu and JK4 [in Rivers State], Oporoma, Angiama, Polaku, Imiringi, Otuasega, and Sounkiri [in Bayelsa State], to mention a few, have complained bitterly about the negative impacts they are contending with from gas flaring.
Only recently, the Federal Government, through the minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, announced that Nigeria will stop gas flaring in 2025. He was quoted as saying, ‘‘We believe, with all the programmes lined up, that we are on course to achieve complete elimination of gas flaring by 2025. We take the issue of gas flaring in the ministry very seriously’’ [THISDAY, February 15, 2021]. Whether this is the final goalpost, time will tell. But for now, it is yet another shifted goal post of ending gas flaring in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, while communities wait for an end to gas flaring, people living in a community like Ogboinbiri that is so close to two vertical Gas Flare stacks burning 24/7 cannot access the medical facility in their community due to high cost of medical services and drugs. The main community where people live is approximately about 600-800 meters from the vertical Gas flare stacks. Ordinarily these victims of Agip’s illegal gas flaring ought to be given special medical attention and properly relocated within the community environment as was the case with Finima for the Liquified Natural Gas [LNG] in Bonny, Rivers State. This is even more so, considering the life-threatening overflowing and vibrations from the flare site so nearby. Social and environmental justice demands that the people of Ogboinbiri should not be left the way they are; neglected and denied.
The Ogboinbiri Oilfield is within OML 63 and the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited has been exploiting crude oil and gas from the community environment since the Ogboinbiri Flow Station was established in the late 1980s. Presently the Ogboinbiri oilfield has over 17 viable or functional oil wells, from which Agip has continued to extract crude oil and gas for over three decades, producing 50,000 barrel per day and 180 million cubic feet of gas daily. With all the resources taken daily from the community by Agip and NNPC Joint venture and 13% Derivation accruing monthly to Bayelsa State, it is unthinkable that such a community is denied portable water and affordable health facility. This is alienation by the government and it is unjust.