Nigeria Backs Quick Cleanup of Half Century of Oil Spills

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he’s accelerating plans for one of the world’s largest oil cleanups following 50 years of spillage at operations in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta.

Buhari on Wednesday approved the composition of a governing council and board of trustees to oversee the restoration plan. A group of “stakeholders” will release as much as $10 million within 30 days of formally creating a trust fund to manage financial contributions, according to an e-mailed statement from the office of the presidency.

The West African nation has been criticized for failing to act on a 2011 report by the United Nations Environment Programme that linked oil spills in Ogoniland to groundwater contamination, including cancer-causing substances, and polluted ecosystems, posing threats to the health of humans and wildlife. The UN said the recovery would be the world’s “most wide-ranging and long-term oil cleanup” lasting three decades and it would take an initial capital injection of $1 billion.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed this year to pay 55 million pounds ($86 million) to compensate more than 15,000 residents, mostly fishermen, of the Bodo community in Ogoniland for two oil spills in 2008. The settlement ended a three-year legal tussle in a London court.

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Hundreds of spills occur every year in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and largest economy, damaging the environment and destroying the livelihood of fishing and farming communities in the Niger Delta region. Pipeline ruptures can be caused by corrosion, poor maintenance and equipment failure, as well as by thieves and saboteurs.

Buhari pledged to resolve Nigeria’s deepest problems after taking office in May, in the country’s first peaceful transfer of power from a ruling party to the opposition. His commitments included boosting transparency in the oil industry, which provides the bulk of government revenue and has been hit by a plunge in prices. West Texas Intermediate rose 0.1 percent to $45.18 a barrel, paring the drop over 12 months to 53 percent.

The two organizations that will oversee the oil clean up will have representatives from the petroleum and environment ministries, the United Nations and the state-run oil company, according to the statement from Buhari’s office.