Fishermen in the southern coastal town of Kribi are warily casting their nets after a leak in the massive Chad-Cameroon pipeline last week.
“Our town lives on fishing and tourism. If more incidents like this or worse occur it is the economic future of the town that is threatened,” Kribi Mayor Gregoire Mba Mba told IRIN.
The Cameroon Oil Transportation Company (COTCO), which built the Cameroon leg of the pipeline, announced on 19 January that the structure’s water evacuation system had failed. The company said the leak was quickly brought under control and “no impact on the coast or on the sensitive marine environment is anticipated”.
It was not immediately clear how much oil leaked into the sea, for how long and what the environmental impact or the affect on livelihoods might be.
But two Cameroonian NGOs, the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) and the Network for the Fight Against Hunger, alleged on Tuesday that there was a delay in detecting the leak and that COTCO waited five days to inform the public at large about the problem.
The NGOs said the accident at the Kome-Kribi terminal 11km offshore exposed weaknesses in Cameroon’s ability to manage such a crisis and that authorities had yet to devise an emergency plan of action in the event of a major spill.
“If there had been an accident affecting the coasts the impact would have been catastrophic because of confusion among authorities and communities who do not seem to know which avenue to pursue in case of a petroleum accident,” said Samuel Nguiffo, of CED, in a statement.
The US $3.7 billion Chad-Cameroon pipeline brings oil from landlocked Chad through a 1,100km-pipeline - with 890km of it passing through Cameroon - to the Atlantic. The pipeline reaches the coast at Ebome, near Kribi, and continues out to sea to the Kome-Kribi tanker loading terminal. Kribi is about 150km southwest of the capital, Yaounde.
The pipeline project was overseen by the World Bank, which demanded strict environmental and social standards, in part to prevent oil money from disappearing from government coffers. It signed a new memorandum of understanding with Chad last July after the Chadian government demanded its original promise to put 90 percent of its share of oil revenues into development be reduced to 70 percent.
In Cameroon, a programme of compensation for loss of land, hunting and farming grounds and general inconvenience caused by the construction of the pipeline was drawn up. A community liaison team held more than a 1,000 meetings with villages and individuals and spent over US $8 million on reparations.
The Montreal-based International Advisory Group is one of several independent monitors for the project. The members of the international consortium running the pipeline are: ExxonMobil, Petronas of Malaysia and ChevronTexaco.
The World Bank says the project could result in nearly US $2 billion in revenues for Chad and US $500 million for Cameroon over the 25-year production period.