If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know about the devastation oil spills has brought communities in the Niger Delta and Shell Oil’s continuing resistance to take full responsibility.
Now, new data obtained by Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) bring shocking new facts to light. Shell dramatically under-estimated the damage of a 2008 spill that resulted in tens of thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a Niger Delta town of some 69,000 people.
The spills, that gushed for weeks before being stopped, have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people, destroying livelihoods, undermining access to food and clean water and putting health at risk.
Previously, we called for Shell to pay $1 billion to begin to clean up the pollution. Shell, which reported recent profits of $6.4 billion, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster. They still have not paid any official compensation to affected communities.
Shell’s official investigation claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in total. But based on the independent assessment carried out by US firm Accufacts Inc the total amount of oil spilt over the 72 day period is between 103,000 barrels and 311,000 barrels.
The difference is staggering: even using the lower end of the Accufacts estimate, the volume of oil spilt at Bodo was more than 60 times the volume Shell has repeatedly claimed leaked.
Shell’s oil spill investigation report also claims that the spill started on October 5, 2008 – while the community and Nigerian regulators have confirmed a start date of August 28, 2008. What is not in dispute is that Shell did not stop the spill until November 7 – four weeks after it claims it began – and 10 weeks after the start date given by the community and the regulator.
The serious under-recording at Bodo also has wider implications: Shell repeatedly claims to its investors, customers and the media that the majority of the oil spilt in the Niger Delta is caused by sabotage. Sabotage is a real and serious problem in the Niger Delta, but Shell misuses the issue as a PR shield and makes claims that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.
The new evidence suggests that half of the oil spilt in the Niger Delta in 2008 was due to operational failures – and possibly as much as 80 per cent.
It’s important to point out that under Nigerian law, when spills are classified as being the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability with respect to compensation for damage done to people or their livelihoods.
More than three years after the Bodo oil spill, Shell has yet to conduct a proper clean up or to pay any official compensation to the affected communities. We must keep the pressure up, take action now to tell Shell to own up, pay up and clean up the Niger Delta.