Divergent reactions on Thursday trailed the decision of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to expand its regulatory mandate to the downstream sub-sector of the oil and gas industry.
Reports had quoted Mr Idris Musa, the Director-General of NOSDRA, as saying on Wednesday that the agency would now focus on the downstream in order to ensure operators complied with environmental legislation to prevent increase in the incidents of pollution.
Musa claimed that the agency was responsible for ensuring compliance with environmental legislation in the petroleum industry which covered the upstream, midstream and downstream sub-sectors.
According to him, the upstream sub-sector consisted of the exploration and production companies (who deal with crude oil essentially); the midstream were the refineries and depots, while the downstream were the filling stations.
But some stakeholders, mostly environmentalists, who spoke on the development, lauded the emphasis on downstream sector, while others insisted it would result in the neglect of oil spill regulation and induce conflict.
In his reaction, renowned environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey, said there was need for proper demarcation of duties between the NOSDRA and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) over the regulation of the downstream sub-sector to avoid overlapping roles.
He said, “The statements by NOSDRA are interesting. It is essential that the agency detects and responds to infringements in terms of release of hydrocarbons into the environment. It is, however, not clear who between NOSDRA and DPR actually “regulates” the sector.”
“While we welcome NOSDRA focus on the downstream, we are concerned that the agency thinks that they have mastered the upstream territory.”
Also speaking, Alagoa Morris, the head of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Bayelsa State office, stated that NOSDRA’s idea of extending its regulatory base could be good but might cause institutional conflict with DPR.
“Now that NOSDRA is showing interest (in downstream), it is an opportunity to say some stakeholders are not comfortable with the indiscriminate siting of petrol stations, especially around crowed residential areas, as is the case in Yenagoa.
“But good as the idea may be, some may think the DPR was better saddled with such facilities like petrol stations, including approval of site. Unfortunately, while we are not yet satisfied with NOSDRA’s role in the upstream; this intention of coming downstream is received with mixed feelings,” he said.
An environmental lawyer and former Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Iniruo Wills, said NOSDRA required adequate funding to deal with oil spills and called for the amendment of the act establishing it to empower it as the superior regulator.
He said, “Downstream pollution is a tea cup compared to the ocean of oil pollution flooding petroleum host communities in the Niger Delta on a daily basis.
“It is also urgent to amend the NOSDRA Act to define it as the full and superior environmental regulatory agency for the petroleum industry, rather than leaving it as a mere response or reaction agency.”
But for Furoebi Akene, a surveyor and Environmental Impact Assessment expert, the move was outside the mandate of NOSDRA Act, 2006.
He said, “It is disheartening and disappointing to hear from the helmsman of NOSDRA to leave the major responsibilities of the agency as outlined in sections 5, 6, 7 and 19 of the agency’s establishment Act 2006 and to monitor filling stations in the country.”
“What then is the positions and responsibilities of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency -NESREA-, Department of Petroleum Resources, etc?
“There are incessant crude oil spills in the Niger Delta region almost on daily basis overwhelming the agency, and leaving these to shift focus on filling stations is unfortunate.”