"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".

- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles

Friday, 22 October 2010

Exxon Mobil Has Form: A Case Study of Nigeria

In the world of policing "form" refers to an individual's past history of offending - those who consistently reoffend have form to commit crime again and thus arouse the attention of police officers.

Surely corporations have form. Here at LNG Watch we have reported on Exxon Mobil's activities in Aceh Indonesia, now we have a number of articles from another major area of Exxon's operations, Nigeria. The first two article examines Exxon's environmental record in Nigeria, the third examines their labour practices.  

The Oil Spill No One's Talking About

By Omoyele Sowore

July 16, 2010

This week 700 million pairs of eyes from all around the world were focused on Africa to see Spain finally win Football's World Cup. It's now time those eyes focused on another kind of ball -- balls of oil fouling the environment off the coast of Nigeria.

The story line sounds familiar. A big oil company (in this case ExxonMobil) leaks vast amounts of oil, pollutes the waters (in this case the Atlantic Ocean) killing the fish, local industries and any hopes of a rapid clean up.

It's time the world paid attention. I've been reporting this story since ExxonMobil decided to import a 30-year-old leaking oil platform to Nigeria from Angola, a platform even Angola's government regulators rejected! I'm no businessman, but that doesn't exactly sound like a good investment.

But just as BP has handled its oil spill disaster off in the Gulf of Mexico, ExxonMobil and the Nigerian government are handling things incredibly poorly too. In fact, they're trying to act as if this spill hasn't happened. American media outlets have been denied access to Nigeria. The government has imposed a 50-mile media blackout around the spill site -- from land, air and sea -- so no one can get close and see the disaster first hand. My sources tell me that ExxonMobil officials have been bribing local Nigerian officials in the hope they can "make it all go away."

But I won't let it go away. Since founding SaharaReporters.com five years ago, I have made it my job to be a citizen journalist, and report freely, accurately and fairly to expose the corruption of the Nigerian government.

Here's what ExxonMobil and the government in Nigeria don't want you to know. They don't want you to know this 30-year-old platform is still leaking at least five thousand of barrels of crude a day. They don't want you to know that they can't fix the leak (sounds familiar again doesn't it?) They don't want you to know that if the current pipes break further before they can fix the platform, it will release 60 to 100 thousand of barrels of oil a day.

This environmental catastrophe has been going on since December 2009, when I first broke the story.

ExxonMobil repeatedly denied that anything had happened, but the pictures attached to this article tell a different story. It's an eerily familiar story. There's oil on the surface of the ocean, wildlife coated in crude, fishermen losing their businesses.

Only in the last 10 days did ExxonMobil finally issue a statement to "BusinessDay and News Agency of Nigeria" saying only two barrels of oil had spilled

The timing of that statement was interesting -- perhaps because ExxonMobil had another environmental PR disaster on its hands -- this time in the United States. ExxonMobil owns the largest oil refinery in the U.S. But just last week, the Associated Press reported the Baytown refinery violated federal air pollution laws thousands of times during the last five years, releasing 10 million pounds of illegal pollution, including cancer-causing toxins. According to environmental groups, ExxonMobil got away without facing proper fines or being forced to fix equipment. Yes, it's a familiar story.

Nigeria is a country of 140 million people. Kick backs to government officials are the normal way of doing business. Perhaps that's why this oil spill hasn't got the attention it should. Journalists can't report it, but I can. And just as I finish writing this piece comes word that BP's stocks went up with news that ExxonMobil may buy it. Sounds like a partnership made in heaven.

Niger Delta Environmental Activists Accuse ExxonMobil Worse Oil Pollution in Nigeria Than BP's In The Gulf Of Mexico

June 5, 2010

Environmental rights activists in Eket, Akwa Ibom near the Qua Iboe oil export terminal operated by ExxonMobil under a joint venture agreement has accused United States of double standards regarding oil pollution issues. The environmentalists have described the reported use of dispersants near the coast by Mobil Producing Nigeria, Nigerian unit of US oil company ExxonMobil for the containment of the May 1 oil spill as a violation of  environmental standards in the oil industry.
They argued that while the United States government to protect its citizens against the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, an American oil company was perpetrating worse environmental crimes to the detriment of  Nigerians in the oil rich Niger Delta region.

The environmental rights activists under the auspices of Network For Safe and Secured Environment (NESE) told SaharaReporters that residents in coastal communities in Akwa Ibon who inhaled the dispersants experienced respiratory discomfort and took ill.

It was gathered that the practice has been ongoing for decades as the entire pipeline network at the Qua Iboe oil fields laid in the 1970’s have outlived the industrywide life span of between 15 and 20 years leading to frequent oil spills from the oil facilities.

Dispersants are chemical substances used to combat oil spills, it dissipates and breaks down the crude oil molecules and removes the oil from the water surface to the sea bed.

Mr. Bob Victor Okon an environmental scientist and  the NGO’s  Programme Director said that dispersants were toxic to both human and aquatic life addition that its use was restricted to offshore locations away from human settlements.

 “The use of dispersants in the control of oil spills is usually not contemplated by environmentally conscious societies because of the impact of the chemicals on the marine ecosystem, it has been scientifically proven that dispersants increase the toxicity levels in the marine environment beyond tolerable limits.

“It is usually not recommended near human settlements because of its toxicity to fish eggs, fingerlings and other aquatic life; so there is need for the oil industry regulators to be more discerning before approving the use of toxic chemicals to mitigate oil spill” Okon said.

He said that the NGO was concerned about the toxicity level of the coastal waters since the application of dispersants which distorted the food chain and challenged the management of the oil firm to urgently take steps to remediate the damages done to the environment.

 “We demand that Mobil should immediately start conservation projects in its host communities to mediate the damages done to the environment since they commenced operations in the 1970’s, this will restore the environment to its natural state

“This is in addition to the conduct of an independent study on the toxicity of the coastal waters to determine when it will become safe to advise fishermen to commence  fishing activities which was suspended when the spill occurred in May ” Okon said.

Okon regretted that Nigeria leaders lack the awareness and interest in environmental issues and were ill prepared to engage oil firms to maintain high safety and environmental standards in their operations but rather collaborated with Multinational oil companies to perpetrate crimes against the environment that cannot be tolerated in their home countries.

“Nigerians are at the receiving end and we cannot allow multinationals to flout our environmental laws, look at how the US President reacted when a British oil firm BP had an oil spill that affected American citizens but an American oil company, Mobil frequently does the same thing here and it is swept under the carpet”, Okon said.

In a reaction to the allegations of using toxic chemical dispersants to contain the spill, Mobil Producing Nigeria Management wryly said that dispersants does not pose any health hazard.

“Dispersants are not toxic to humans, they evaporate immediately after application.  They do not constitute health hazards to humans and aquatic life.  Dispersant use is approved by regulatory agency” a company spokesman said.
SaharaReporters investigations however showed that Mobil did not obtain the said approval from the Nation Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency empowered by existing legislation to grant approval for the use of dispersants in oil spill incidents.

Exxon Mobil Victimises Union Staff

10 March, 2008

Mobil Oil Nigeria Plc. has become an anti-social force blocking workplace solutions to the downstream oil section of Nigeria. And the company’s actions last week leave no doubt as to its intentions – it seeks to operate its technical and white-collar work units in downstream production with non-union staff.

The company, 100% owned by US-based ExxonMobil, refused to attend a mandated mediation meeting called by the Nigerian Labour Ministry, on 3 March 2008, to resolve differences on work practices and severance procedures with white-collar oil workers’ trade union, PENGASSAN.

Through much of 2007 and into 2008, ICEM-affiliated PENGASSAN and Mobil Oil – as they did similarly with other oil refiners – engaged in negotiations over severance packages. Some intermediate agreements had occurred, but implementing practical application of job separation was elusive.

That process spilled into the Labour Ministry. Senior Nigerian managers of three downstream firms operating in Nigeria did attend the meeting with Nigeria’s Labour and Industrial Relations Director a week ago. But Mobil Oil Nigeria failed to show up.

In the days following that 3 March meeting, the American company displayed its prejudice: it unilaterally sacked PENGASSAN branch leaders, including the zonal Financial Secretary and the union’s National Treasurer. It now has severed from employment all PENGASSAN bargaining committee members who represent workers in collective negotiations.

It also has fired shop stewards and others identified with the union, rising to over 100 the number of full-time workers sacked. In last year’s talks, PENGASSAN and Mobil Oil Nigeria had agreed to staff cuts of just over 40, mostly to accommodate a new data processing system. The company did employ about 400 white-collar staff permanently, but that number has now decreased, with contract and agency workers now taking many of those jobs.

“Mobil Oil Nigeria has betrayed our trust,” stated PENGASSAN General Secretary Bayo Olowoshile. “These recent actions are pre-meditated attempts to victimise and harass union officers, frustrate legal justice, and they amount to a serious breach of our existing labour agreement, national industrial law, and global labour standards.”

Olowoshile said Mobil has violated terms of the 2007-2008 labour agreement; breached Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution, which grants rights to membership in trade unions; ignored Section 9 of the Nigerian Labour Code; and disregarded ILO Convention 135, the Worker’s Representatives Convention.

With the company failing to turn up for 3 March mediation session, the Labour Ministry is now expected to side with PENGASSAN in a National Industrial Court matter over the company’s unilateral actions. The three downstream companies that did engage in last week’s mediation session included Chevron, African Petroleum Plc., and Oando Plc. The labour relations of Shell Nigeria’s downstream operations are not affected in these talks.

The ICEM steadfastly stands behind PENGASSAN and its illegally sacked leaders at Mobil Oil Nigeria, and will work toward reinstatement. The Global Union Federation notes that the company, in 2004, replaced all its permanent blue-collar workers in the downstream sector with agency workers. Those full-time staff had been represented by ICEM affiliate NUPENG.

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