The Access Initiative

Community Takes Oil Giant to Task: Demand Direct Role in Environmental Management of Drilling Project

By Eugene N. Nforngwa (Posted: June 4, 2009)

Limbe, SW – You know you are nearly there from the unending file of fuel trucks lining both sides of the winding double-carriage road.

“There is a perpetual risk of one crashing into these things,” complains Thomas Nche, deputy mayor of Idenau, who uses the road everyday. “There are no warning signs.”

The two-kilometre stretch outside the country’s lone petroleum refinery is only one example of how development could come with problems.

Since the creation of the National Oil Refinery (SONARA) 30 years ago, locals suspect gas flaring from the seaside facility is poisoning their air.

Beachgoers have reported spills and locals blame pollution of the shallow waters used by artisan fishermen for ever declining catch.

In addition to the perpetual risk of accidents, the arrival of hundreds of truckers every day has caused prostitution and, many suspect, HIV/AIDS to blossom around the refinery.

Nche and the nearly 7000 small-scale farmers, fishermen and hunters that make up his municipality, say they do not want to face the same fate.

Later this year, petroleum giant Total E&P plans to drill at least one offshore exploration well close to the municipality.

Major risks shown by an environmental impact study include potential oil spills, residual wastes, disruption of sea traffic and accidental situations, among others.

The well, on the Bomana block (Bomana South) would be located about 12km from the nearest coastline in a zone with water depth of just above 6m.

Ahead of the start of any works, community leaders and ordinary people are already asking a tough question: how would their environment and way of life be protected?

The question came up frequently at a public audience on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project held in Idenau from 25 to 29 May.

The exercise, a requirement of the Cameroonian law, gave members of the public the opportunity to browse the project’s EIA report and make their comments in writing.

Elsewhere and a few years back, the operation would have been a formality. But the people of Idenau were ready and got fully involved.

Idenau is perhaps the first community that has received training on grassroots participation in EIA processes in Cameroon.

A workshop led by the organisation Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme Cameroon in December 2008 also resulted in the setting up of environmental governance committees.

The committees, spread across half a dozen villages and made up of ordinary people, now act as local environmental watchdogs.

“The training has helped us a lot because today we can identify some pitfalls in the [EIA] documents,” said Orgen Motome, an eviromental governenace committee focal point from Bibunde village.

“Those things that they have neglected or that they are informing us that are not very significant, we have seen that they are very significant, especially our absence in some of the operations.

“We are asking that we should be included in the operation so as to check these areas.”

One significant issue pointed out by the locals is the plan to find an alternative measure to deposit barite, a bi-product of the drilling process, into the sea.

“The Report recommends an alternative method to be put in place but we are not there to see that this alternative method has been put in place,” Motome said.

“We need to be there to check the alternative method and [ensure] that it is operational.”

Motome adds: “The report is not very bad, but the worries are that the technical document, which is a thick volume, can only be consulted on the spot. The villagers cannot take it home and have a thorough look at it. What is free for them is the summery, which does not give the very technical details of all the operations.

“Also, in the stakeholders’ consultation meeting, we said since our area is largely English speaking both the summery and the technical document should be in English. But we are surprised that the reporter for the BOMANA South is in French.

“BOMANA is very close to Idenau. The population of BOMANA came and because the document is in French, the went back because they could not exploit the document. That is a major handicap.”

By: Eugene N. Nforngwa theQuail Newspaper PO Box 25284 Yaounde, Cameroon Tel: 00 237 22 03 63 46 Mobile: 00 237 75 11 43 96 Fax: 00 237 22 31 99 53

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