NO fewer than 60 residents of oil bearing communities in Bayelsa State have been trained by an environmental rights group, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF).
Speaking to the volunteers during training in Ikarama community, Yenagoa Local Government Area, Executive Director of HOMEF, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, said that a safe environment was fundamental to support lives and livelihoods.
It will be recalled that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) started operations in Ikarama community in 1964.
He said that there was the need for the people, who resided near oil and gas fields to remain vigilant in conserving the environment.
Bassey advised that they should also ensure that the economic interests of investors did not threaten the environment.
He said there was the need to raise volunteers who would protectthe ecosystem from degradation and pollution.
The Executive Director said that Ikarama community is the worst-hit and most impacted when it comes to oil spill in the Niger Delta region.
According to him, available data indicated that the area records the most frequent oil spills from the operations of Shell and Agip.
He advised them to develop their skills and capacity to listen to the environment as it responded and spoke by responding to human activities that distort the ecosystem.
The session had a site inspection of oil spill impacted site.
The volunteers found out that a youth leader from the community who wanted to use his farm for fish farming discovered that oil was oozing out from the ground.
“A community youth invested resources to excavate his farm for fish farm only to find out that oil was coming out from the ground.
“He did this last year and this year, it is shocking that the exposure of this level of pollution has not driven the polluters to action immediately.
“We heard Shell has come here to take samples and up till now, we have not heard that the result has been released. We want to be sure that the result is released as soon as they are ready.
“The Ministry of Environment, the NOSDRA and those from Federal Ministry should be involved too.
“We are having contamination not just in this location here, it is very important to test soil across the community because we are having oil facilities transversing Ikarama community and other Niger Delta communities,” Bassey said.
He recommended clean up of oil impacted areas as the people had been affected badly in oil spill cases in the Niger Delta region.
Also speaking, an environmentalist, Mr Alagoa Morris, said that monitoring the environment demanded factual and evidence-based data collection, recording and reporting.
He called on Shell and other oil companies to be proactive when such happens for the safety of rural dwellers and the aquatic lives that the people depend on.
On his part, the owner of the fish farm where oil was coming from the ground, Mr Benjamin Enebiri, expressed sadness over the situation, calling on Shell to remediate the land.
He said he invested over N600,000 to hire an excavator to dig the pond, regretting that all has become a waste of resources for him and his family.
He called on Shell and other oil firms to always consider the needs of the rural people by providing them a standard hospital, saying the people are dying from various ailments caused by oil exploration.
The interactive segment of the training had the volunteers from the community share experiences on the adverse impacts of oil and gas exploration on their environments.