US Oil Giant Chevron and Hazardous Pollution in Angola

Maka Angola has learned that the Angolan government has extended an exemption to its environmental protection policy to allow the US oil company Chevron to dump tons of hazardous oil waste directly into ocean shallows near the coast of Cabinda, its northern enclave.

Marine experts describe the move as “an incomprehensible act” and are calling on President João Lourenço to enforce the law and ensure ALL foreign companies comply with the zero-discharge policy.

A report on the dumping of oil-contaminated drill cuttings from offshore oil platforms along Angola’s northern coastline, seen by Maka Angola,says this practice, banned in most parts of the world, constitutes a major threat to marine life and ecosystems. The adverse impact of large amounts of pollutants on marine life, the eventual impact on coastlines and the potential hazard to human health, were fundamental reasons for the adoption of a zero-waste policy by Angola going back to 2014.

An initial moratorium on the transition to zero-discharge was introduced only for new exploration in the areas of ultra-deep-water exploration. However, a leaked letter from the Angolan Ministry of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas (MIREMPET) to Peter William Lacobie Jr, the Director General of Chevron’s Angolan subsidiary CABGOC, grants his request for an extension to the moratorium to July 2023 in two old shallow water areas, Block 0 and Block 14, just off the coast of Cabinda. The impact of this would result in the discharge of at least 12,000 tons of drill cuttings and 6 million litres of oil per year.

From the evidence seen by Maka Angola it appears that the change of heart was authorized at the highest level. The MIREMPET letter, signed by Euclides de Oliveira, and dated in May this year, says that after a consultation process with the National Agency for Oil, Gas and Biofuels (ANPG – Agência Nacional de Petroleo, Gas e Biocombustiveis) his request has been approved “por incumbência superior”.

The ANPG was created in 2019 to take over as the national concessionaire for licensing operations and contractors, leaving the state monopoly Sonangol with continued responsibility for exploration, refining and processing, storage, supply, and distribution. The move was supposed to increase transparency, but the leaked letter suggests that executives at the US company Chevron continue to engage in backroom deals with Angolan officials to avoid having to abide by the letter and spirit of the law.

Maka Angola contacted both MIREMPET and CABGOC for comment on this situation. In written answers, MIREMPET asserted that it is complying with climate conference obligations by ensuring that treatment of the drilling effluent is dealt with onsite, an annual saving of 1500 tons of carbon dioxide.

The Ministry referenced its legal right accorded by Decree 97/14 to issue exemptions in “special circumstances” that prevented the operator from compliance. It had verified that “Cabinda did not have the capacity to deal with the effluent in situ in the specific case of the Tombua-Landana Block 14”, an “end-of-life project with limited resources”, given the high cost of any alternative solution, such as the collection and transport of the effluent overland to Luanda or Soyo for processing.

MIREMPET said extending the exemption “permitted CABGOC to develop the marginal site of Lifua Bloco 0, without incurring additional costs that would have had a negative impact on the country’s output production target” but they had imposed “strict conditions” on CABGOC to modify equipment, use approved synthetic chemicals for flushing, and collect and test samples to ensure it complied with the 5% limit.

A succinct response from CABGOC said it operated within the spirit and letter of the law and had only applied for an extension to the existing exemption allowing it to release effluent into the ocean because it had no other viable option.

Maka Angola notes that other oil companies operating in Angola’s offshore fields have made considerable commitments to investing in health, education, environmental and infrastructure projects for the benefits of local communities. Even though Cabinda accounts for more than half of Angola’s output, there has been little evidence of willingness to invest in basic infrastructure, let alone diverse economic development projects for the enclave.

Chevron has been operating in the area since before Angolan Independence and constructed a heavily guarded base, built to American standards. Outside, however, there is little to show for the billions of petrodollars reaped from Cabinda’s oil wealth. The native population remains mired in poverty, with threats of violent insurrection by Cabindan guerrilla movements, such as FLEC, in the past. Such threats were countered by placing the enclave under military control by the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and locals have made numerous allegations of serious human rights abuses.