International experts intend to conduct field-based assessments in over 300 sites to identify the impacts of oil on land, water, agriculture, fisheries and air as well as the indirect effects on biodiversity and human health.
Requested by the Government of Nigeria, the assessment is expected to last about 12 months.
Oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta region started during the 1950s, but operations were suspended in the early 1990s due to local public unrest. The oil fields and installations in Ogoniland have since remained dormant.
Oil leaks from a Shell pipeline near the fishing village of Goi in the Niger Delta's Ogoniland. September 2009. (Photo © Kadir van Lohuizen courtesy Amnesty International)
Environmental contamination from these operations has not been remediated to date, or only partially remediated. Further spills have resulted from lack of maintenance, oil tapping, and damage to oil infrastructure and facilities over the last 15 years.
The findings of the environmental assessment will be used to make recommendations on the appropriate levels of remediation needed to rehabilitate the land to a condition that is environmentally acceptable, on the basis of international standards.
The total budget for the assessment is US$9.5 million, which is provided by the Shell Petroleum Development Company. The SPDC is a joint venture operated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Shell, Elf/Total and Agip, in which the Government of Nigeria has a stake of 55 percent.
A project office has been opened by UNEP in Port Harcourt to support the operation.
The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, a grassroots organization of the Ogoni ethnic minority people of south-eastern Nigeria based in Port Harcourt, again may not cooperate with the assessment.
MOSOP says this is not the first move made by UNEP, Shell and the Government of Nigeria towards the cleanup of Ogoniland and that previous attempts were not conducted with transparency but were mounted to "achieve the pre-determined outcome of returning Shell to Ogoni to commence oil production."
The organization is wary of UNEP, saying in February that the credibility of the UN agency was "collapsing" because MOSOP was not notified in advance of the arrival of UNEP experts in the Niger Delta.
"We note with dismay that it does appear that the Federal Government, UNEP and their collaborators have learnt no lesson as it was similar questionable approach that was responsible for the failure of the last attempt by UNEP and government to resolve the problem," wrote MOSOP spokesman Bari-ara Kpalap in February.
UNEP says the final assessment report is scheduled to be published by the end of 2010.
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