Multi-national oil company, Shell, lied when it claimed it had cleaned up heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta.
That is the claim by Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)in a new report published on Tuesday.
The report is titled, “Clean it up: Shell’s false claims about oil spills in the Niger Delta”,
It tells a gloomy story of ongoing contamination at four oil spill sites that Shell said it had cleaned up years ago.
Amnesty said the report was published to mark the 20th anniversary of the execution of the environmental activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Mr. Saro-Wiwa, who campaigned relentlessly against damage caused to the Ogoni area of Rivers State, was executed by the Sani Abacha junta on November 10, 1995.
“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” said Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights researcher at Amnesty International.
“Oil spills have a devastating impact on the fields, forests and fisheries that the people of the Niger Delta depend on for their food and livelihood. Anyone who visits these spill sites can see and smell for themselves how the pollution has spread across the land,” he said.
The report also documents the failure of the Nigerian government to regulate the oil industry.
Its watchdog, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), is under-resourced and there are big questions of corruption because it continues to certify areas visibly polluted with crude oil, as clean, Amnesty said.
AI said its investigation found visible pollution at sites Shell claimed it had cleaned.
“The Niger Delta is the biggest oil-producing region in Africa. The largest international oil company there is Shell. It operates around 50 oil fields and 5,000 km of pipelines, much of them ageing and poorly-maintained. The oil giant’s own figures admit to 1,693 oil spills since 2007, though the real number is probably higher,” AI said in a statement.
After a 2011 investigation by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) exposed massive levels of pollution caused by oil spills from Shell pipelines in the Ogoniland as well as health risk the people in the region are exposed to as a result of Shell’s failure to clean up the spills.
Shell promised to clean up sites identified by UNEP and improve its response to future spills.
According to AI, its investigation at four of the spill sites UNEP identified as highly polluted in 2011, revealed that all four remain visibly contaminated even though Shell says it has cleaned them.
“The investigation demonstrates this is due to inadequate clean-up, and not new oil spills,” AI stated.
“At one of the locations, Shell’s Bomu Well 11, researchers found blackened soil and layers of oil on the water, 45 years after an oil spill took place – even though Shell claims to have cleaned it up twice, in 1975 and 2012. At other sites, certified as cleaned by the Nigerian regulator, researchers found soil and water contaminated by oil close to where people lived and farmed.
“The investigation shows Shell has not addressed problems with its entire approach to cleaning up oil pollution in Nigeria, including how it trains and oversees the local contractors that actually conduct the work,” the statement claimed.
AI said one contractor who had been hired by Shell told Amnesty International how half-hearted and superficial clean-up efforts failed to prevent lasting environmental damage.
“This is just a cover up. If you just dig down a few metres you find oil. We just excavated, then shifted the soil away, then covered it all up again,” the contractor was quoted as saying.
AI said when contacted, Shell disagreed with its findings but did not give further details.
“The company directed researchers to its website, but this provides very little information about clean up. Shell also repeated its claim that most oil spills and pollution are caused by illegal activity, such as people stealing oil from pipes rather than poor maintenance, the statement claimed.
“Amnesty International and CEHRD have exposed false statements made by Shell about illegal activity and the extent of oil spills due to corroded pipes in previous reports. In any case, Nigerian law says companies who own pipelines are responsible for cleaning up, no matter what causes a spill,” the statement said.
Amnesty International called on the Nigerian government to strengthen its watchdog, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). It also ask Shell to be more transparent with the clean-up it claimed to be doing.
”Shell says theft is to blame for oil spills, but even if that were true it would not excuse the company’s consistent failure to clean up oil pollution. Shell’s blame game can no longer deflect attention from its broken promises and neglected infrastructure,” said Mark Dummett.
“As long as oil companies fail to live up to their commitments, the Niger Delta will remain a cautionary tale of communities promised prosperity, but left with blighted, devastated lands.”