An information-sharing session between SPACES FOR CHANGE | S4C and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is strengthening the relationship between civil society and government, while spurring the accountable conduct of extractive operations in the oil and gas host communities in the South-Eastern zone of the country. Mr. Osahon Nosayame, S4C’s Programme Officer, Extractives Energy and Environment Justice led the S4C delegation to the meeting held on December 11, 2020 at DPR’s Owerri Zonal Operations Office in Imo State. The meeting had in attendance, senior DPR officials comprising the Zonal Director represented by the Assistant Zonal Director who led the DPR team. Others were the Head of Public Affairs Unit, Head of HSE Unit, Head of Upstream Department, Head of Gas Operations, Secretary and Head of Legal amongst other officers of the agency.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is saddled with the statutory responsibility of ensuring compliance to petroleum laws, regulations and guidelines in the oil and gas industry. Right from the beginning of the discussion, parties agreed on the importance of host communities considering the critical role they play in the development of nation’s oil and gas sector. The Zonal Director acknowledged DPR’s mandate to ensure that operators follow environmental guidelines and meet their corporate social responsibility obligations to their host communities. So important is the issue of protecting the rights and interests of host communities that the Petroleum Industry Bill devoted several sections towards addressing the specific local concerns that often breed tension between operators and their hosts.
S4C’s presentation at the session detailed the findings and outcomes of its robust engagements with various communities across the state, especially in Ohaji/Egbema Local GA hosting new oil finds. Some key concerns of the host communities include the following:
- The influx of foreigners and the constant movement of heavy equipment into the community, but yet, locals remain largely unaware of the specific corporations operating there. The corporations also prefer to interact directly with a few landowners that own the fields where the oil discoveries were made.
- Oil companies prefer to execute a global memorandum of understanding (GMOU) despite the evident capacity deficit among natives to negotiate better benefits and demand stronger legal protection against environmental harms. Some communities have been cajoled into signing GMOUs without seeking independent legal advice and capacity-building.
- The signing of GMOUs with the multinationals, coupled with the litany of verbal promises of development progress made to the natives, have yet to translate to any marked improvement in local living conditions. Benefits of the natural resources abundant in their localities do not trickle down to the common man as poverty and unemployment remain widespread.
- Communities cannot differentiate between oil and gas extraction and the associated risks with both. Fire incidents in oilfields have been recorded which razed farmlands.
Based on the above, key demands of communities to DPR include:
- DPR to ensure that a Risk Base Inspection (RBI) is conducted for all oil and gas facilities by their operators according to Sections 3.0 and 4.0 of DPR Risk Base Inspection Guidelines for Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry, 2020.
- DPR to ensure that all facilities of oil companies operating in their communities conforms with the DPR Technical Safety Control (TSC) Requirement for Facility Development Projects, 2020 and DPR Safety Case Guidelines, 2020.
- Oil and gas companies should submit to DPR and make available to the host communities their detailed Community Development programs as contained in DPR Guidelines for the Establishment of Hydrocarbon Process Plants in Nigeria, 2008.
- DPR to ensure new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) or relevant environmental studies are conducted in respect of new oil finds not covered by the earlier EIA, if ever conducted, and the report should be made readily available to host communities and the general public according to DPR’s EGASPIN,2018 and EIA Act CAP E12 LFN 2004.
- Establishment of host community or impacted communities’ status with regards to the oil multinationals operating in their domain.
Reacting to the key concerns and demands of communities, the regulators reiterated that DPR encourages the development of memorandum of understanding (MOU) and global memorandum of understanding (GMOU) between oil and gas companies and their host communities and also ensures that the agreed responsibilities of parties are implemented to the letter. DPR also conducts periodic tripartite meeting between multinational oil and gas companies and host communities to review extractive activities in the local areas. Beyond engaging communities, S4C was encouraged to equally engage the multinational oil and gas companies to learn more about oil company interventions in their host communities.
Senior officials in change of DPR’s Health Safety and Environment (HSE) Division, added that DPR conducts due diligence in all industry operations in order to ensure that oil spills are immediately cleaned up and the impacted sites remediated. They further encouraged S4C and partner communities to immediately report oil spills and field fires whenever they occur so that prompt action will be taken. S4C further learned more about how determinations of the status of host or impacted community are made, with the involvement of the State Ministry of Lands and Survey; and the grant of freedom to operate (FTO) agreements between a host community and company/contractor that contains the terms and conditions upon which the host community agrees to allow the contractor-company to work, operate and execute a particular project-contract.
In closing, S4C’s observations, concerns and demands on behalf of the oil and gas host communities were noted, with a joint resolution to take action on all fours. DPR expressed its willingness to continue to collaborate with S4C to interface with communities and deliver technical support on contentious issues requiring regulatory intervention. Parties resolved to undertake necessary joint action towards transforming local agitations into opportunities for environmental justice and corporate accountability.