By Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network, Executive Director / reposted from SFGate / originally posted May 28, 2012
This has been one of the worst years ever for Chevron. From it’s ongoing massive legal losses in Ecuador, to offshore disasters in Brazil and Nigeria, to the tragic deaths of its employees in several locations, including right here in California.
This is the fourth in a series of statements we’re posting as we prepare for a week of what is sure to be inspired 99% Spring protest against Chevron’s irresponsible and destructive business practices (read the first statement, by Kazakhstan’s Sergey Solanyik, here; the second, by Ecuador’s Luz Trinidad Andrea Cusangua, here; the third, by Communities for a Better Environment about Richmond, CA, here; and the fourth, by The Wilderness Society in Australia, here).
These statements are by people from around the world (and from right here in the Bay Area) letting us know what it really means to live in the communities where Chevron operates. Many will travel to San Ramon, CA to bring their calls for justice directly to the company’s executives, board members, and shareholders at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting on May 30. You can view all of the statements at TrueCostOfChevron.com. If you want to join the protest on May 30, RVSP and find details here.
Today we have two statements from Nigeria, where Chevron was responsible for one of the worst oil disasters of the past year when one of the company’s offshore rigs exploded and burned for over a month. Chevron was never able to contain the fire, but it eventually went out on its own. Large numbers of fish were killed by the oil that was spilled as a result, and the air and coastline were badly polluted.
The first statement is from Emem Okon of the Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre, the other is by Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth in Nigeria, and Laura Livoti of Justice In Nigeria Now!
CHEVRON FIRE AND THE PEOPLE OF KOLUAMA 1 AND KOLUAMA 2 IN BAYELSA STATE
I will travel over 6000 miles to attend Chevron’s annual general meeting because I want the Chevron CEO, John Watson, and the Board to know about the devastating impact of the raging fire from Chevron’s Gas Wellhead in Bayelsa State. During the 2011 AGM in San Ramon, I requested that Chevron leadership meet with Niger Delta women and their international allies to discuss issues of environmental justice and the impacts of Chevron’s activities on the peoples’ livelihoods in the Niger Delta. To date, they have not done so. This request is even more vital now considering the impacts of the 46 days of fire on the people of Koluama 1 and Koluama 2 communities in Bayelsa state.
Oil and Gas related incidents in Nigeria’s Niger Delta are unending. The record of environmental devastation was updated in the early hours of January 16, 2012 when the people of Koluama 1 and Koluama 2 communities in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa state were awakened by the explosion from the CHEVRON’s Apoi North Gas Wellhead. Their world stood still for moments when the communities vibrated; the people were alarmed, terrified and frightened. Later, they found out that yet again, the oil industry has manifested their trademark of destruction.
A Chevron oil rig burns in the waters off the Niger Delta
The Koluama people are fisher folks as their communities are mainly riverine, taking more than three hours boat drive from Koluama to Yenagoa the Bayelsa state capital. The implication of this is that the primary occupation of the people is fishing; the Atlantic Ocean and the Koluama River contribute to the main sustenance of life in these communities. The Koluama River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Life in these communities is very challenging; the Chevron fire incident has made it worse. The water has been poisoned; the environment has been devastated; the livelihood destroyed; the people are wrecked, busted and helpless.
The incident has impacted on the health and livelihoods of community members. As result of the toxic fluid flowing from the fire, fishes and other aquatic lives are dying in great numbers in the ocean. Besides it is not healthy to eat anything from the ocean or the Koluama River since they have become polluted by the toxic fluid. Chief Christian Munghanbofa-Akpele, Chairman, Koluama 1 Council of Chiefs said helplessly, “our lives are now endangered”. There is no health care facility in the community to handle any health casualties.
Chevron has operated in Koluama community since 1953, when they started with seismic operations. The impacts of the explosives led to the dislocation of the communities to the present site. In 1963, the company struck oil and have continued operations ever since. Community members recounted that they are yet to benefit positively from the existence of Chevron in the communities. This negates Chevron recently released corporate responsibility report that they have invested over $200 million to support community programs around the world, with a focus on health, education and economic development. Why have Koluama 1 and Koluama 2 communities in Nigeria’s Delta not benefitted from these programs?
Koluama community members alleged that they suffered similar disaster in 1980 when there was a major oil spillage from Funiwa 5, about 300 metres from the Apoi North Wellhead, the site of the raging fire. The Koluama people decry the negative impacts from Chevron’s operations on their environment. Dead fishes were noticed floating on the water; some were seen struggling to stay alive. The peoples economic activities were disrupted and will remain so for a long time. The Koluama people demand for justice, while they wait for Chevron to act and government to ascertain the extent of damage and conduct a proper clean up of the environment.
On behalf of women in Niger Delta communities, I appreciate Chevron’s reported successes and achievements in Nigeria’s Delta, where they claim ‘to have provided jobs and sustainable economic development while fostering innovative multistakeholder partnerships and socioeconomic investment models’. It is possible to deliver more than 200 projects in 425 communities, villages and chiefdoms only if these projects are not water-boreholes with dry taps; power generating plants that do not provide electricity; completed schools buildings and health centres that are abandoned because they are not equipped with relevant facilities. We will like to know how the 850,000 people from the 425 communities are utilizing the projects. What are the sustainability plans for these projects? Are some of the over 200 completed projects in the Niger Delta located in Koluama 1 and Koluama 11 communities? Are people from Koluama 1 and Koluama 11 communities part of the 850,000 Niger Delta people that are benefitting from Chevron’s largesse? Why are they complaining of neglect and Chevron’s insensitivity. However, there are over 20 million people in the Niger Delta, impacting only on 850,000 persons is very insignificant, that is less than 5% of the population; the impact is not felt. Chevron needs to do more in the Niger Delta.
Anna Orumo says “We are not happy about what is happening to our environment”.
Doris Okorodudu says “I have the intention to tell Chevron my mind – this thing that happened is threatening us; it has stopped us from going to fish in the ocean. We are known for fishing and when you take that away from us, what else do you want us to do? WE ARE ANGRY AND CHEVRON SHOULD KNOW THIS.”
We call on Chevron to clean up their mess in the Niger Delta!
Read more from Nnimmo Bassey and Laura Livoti here