Shell’s Niger Delta Pollution: The Good, the Bad and the Ongoing Quest for Justice

Oil spill in Nigeria's Ogoniland

An indigene of Bodo, Ogoniland region in Nigeria, tries to separate with a stick the crude oil from water in a boat at the Bodo waterways polluted by oil spills attributed to Shell equipment failure.(Photo credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director

This week’s ruling by a Dutch court in a case brought by four Nigerian farmers against the oil company Shell for pollution damage represents a small victory – but also underlines the real-world challenges facing victims of pollution and human rights abuses involving multinational companies.

The four farmers who brought the case had seen their livelihoods destroyed by oil pollution from Shell’s operations.

The court found in favour of one plaintiff, stating that Shell Nigeria had breached its duty of care in that case by failing to take reasonable action to prevent third parties tampering with oil wells and causing oil spills. Shell will now have to pay compensation to the affected farmer.

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Shell's Weak Response to Activists' Demands

It’s complicated, claimed Shell on their Facebook page today in response to the barrage of messages Amnesty activists have been leaving them on Facebook, Twitter and via email demanding they own up, clean up and pay up their mess in the Niger Delta.

But nothing is complicated about the fact that Shell has reaped billions from its oil extractions in the Niger Delta while multiple oil spills there have devastated local communities. And that they’re once again failing to take responsibility for their actions and attempting to shift the blame.  Read their full Facebook response:

shell facebook post

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New Evidence Reveals Shell Wildly Underreported Niger Delta Oil Spill

shell clean up niger delta

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.

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Corporate Accountability Comes Before the U.S. Supreme Court

By Erica Razook, Amnesty’s Business and Human Rights Group

Members of the Ogoni community outside of the Supreme Court, February 28, 2012. Esther Kiobel, center.

Esther Kiobel is a person.

The bright sunlight that washed the steps of the US Supreme Court on Tuesday did not compete with her radiance, the resolve of a widow, a survivor. Outside the court, her eyes searched unquestionably and steadfastly for justice.

In January 1995, when she visited her husband Barinem in a Nigerian prison to bring him some food, she was stripped, beaten and thrown into a cell herself. In November that year, Barinem was executed alongside eight other activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria, provoking widespread international condemnation of the country’s military rulers.

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(S)Hell In The Niger Delta: Satellite Images Document Oil Spills

Bodo Nigeria Before-After

Right: (4 December 2006): A false-color image of the waterways around Bodo. Healthy vegetation appears bright red. Left: (26 January 2009): This image, taken during the second oil spill in Bodo, shows vegetation death concentrated mainly near the river and its tributaries. (c) 2011 GeoEye and Digital Globe (Produced by AAAS).

Newly released satellite images visualize the devastating impact of the 2008 oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, part of a pattern of destruction by oil companies in the region.

The images from 2006, 2009 and 2011 document the destruction of large swathes of vegetation near Bodo’s riverbanks. The true and false-color satellite images show rainbow slicks in the water ways, discoloration of the intertidal zone and vegetation death around Bodo. Three years after the oil spills, the pollution is still visible in the images.

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Shell: Own Up and Pay Up to Clean Up the Niger Delta

shell niger delta

Two major oil spills at Bodo, Ogoniland, have never been cleaned up © Amnesty International

In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spotlighted the big banks for their role spreading toxic investments and contributing to economic deprivation.  Meanwhile in Nigeria, Amnesty’s new report, The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta reveals how spills of toxic crude oil from the operations of big oil companies, like Shell, have harmed people’s health and devastated their livelihoods.

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Activists Demand Action At Chevron Shareholder Meeting

By Tony Cruz, Amnesty’s Business & Human Rights Group

Gas is flaring in the Niger Delta. © Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

On May 25, 2011, I attended Chevron’s Annual Shareholder’s Meeting representing Amnesty International.  This is the 4th meeting I’ve attended but much has changed since 2005.

With the recent 9 billion dollar class action verdict in Ecuador (and last year’s arrests in Houston), security was high and there were real questions as to whether or not the international delegation of NGOs would be allowed in. Fortunately, after an extensive security check, which makes TSA like a walk in the park, we were all allowed in to speak.

During the Q & A portion of the meeting, I addressed Chairman John Watson on the use of gas flaring in the Niger Delta; a technology that has led to serious health related issues and environmental contamination:

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Big Oil, Poisoned Water, And Nigeria

The Niger Delta is one of the most important ecosystems in the world and is home to some 31 million people. Yet it is being poisoned.

Oil is killing the fish, polluting the water, and endangering the people who make the Niger Delta their home.

Oil companies spill more oil into the Niger Delta each year than was spilled as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

A major source of oil pollution is the practice of gas flaring, or the burning off excess gas as waste. The government of Nigeria and multinational oil companies active in the Niger Delta, including Shell, ENI, Total and Chevron, are jointly responsible for gas flaring in the region. But for half a century, the Nigerian government has demonstrated that it can’t or won’t hold oil companies accountable.

As of today, critical questions that residents have raised about the associated health and environmental risks of gas flaring have not been answered. With our new Eyes on Nigeria project’s satellite imaging and mapping technology, we aim to not only validate residents’ concerns, but to expose serious human rights abuses.

Amnesty teams and partners have collected more than 10 years worth of evidence that shows gas flaring is happening dangerously close to the waters where people drink, bathe, fish and wash their clothes.

When Amnesty representatives meet with the Nigerian government and oil executives this summer, we’ll share these facts and push for the answers that have been delayed for so long. Above all, we’ll call on officials to set a solid deadline for ending gas flaring once and for all.

Cleaning up the Niger Delta and stopping gas flaring is a small, but necessary step toward ensuring that basic human rights to health, food, clean water and livelihood in the Niger Delta are protected.

Make sure companies won’t be able to  dodge accountability anymore.Sign our petition calling on oil companies to end gas flaring.

Davos and the Measures of Success

By Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International

The oil continues to leak into the Niger Delta, fouling the water, killing the fish and slowly poisoning the people who live there. It has been that way for decades.

The spills are the legacy of a half-century of exploration and development in the oil-rich region. They have devastated the lives of local residents who rely on the area’s resources for their food, water and livelihoods and left many wondering about the future.

Oil spills in the Niger Delta have devastated the lives of local residents © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Arguments swirl around who is to blame. Residents say oil companies, including Shell, and the government, which owns about half of the oil industry, are responsible. The companies and the government counter that the spills are due to sabotage and theft, the result of armed raids and people stealing oil from the lines.

Demands by Delta communities and activists for information, independent systems for environmental clean-up and compensation, and for the oil companies to be held to account have been largely ignored by the government and dismissed as unnecessary, or unworkable, by the companies.

Incredibly, despite the obvious environmental devastation, there is almost no independent monitoring of food safety, health impacts or water quality. Companies like Shell effectively run the oil spill investigation and compensation processes, with a lack of transparency causing frequent conflict with and between oil-impacted communities.

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Shell Accused Over Misleading Figures on Nigeria Oil Spills

Shell has no compensation liability when spills are declared 'sabotage' © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International today filed an official complaint against oil giant Shell for breaches of basic standards for responsible business set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Amnesty and Friends of the Earth believe that Shell breached OECD guidelines by using discredited and misleading information, in order to blame the majority of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region on sabotage and criminal activity.

In the mid 1990s Shell accepted that much of the oil pollution in the Niger Delta was due to the company’s own failures.  However, Shell now blames sabotage by communities and criminals for most of the problem, citing misleading figures that purport to show as much as 98% of oil spills being caused by sabotage.

While sabotage is a problem in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth have repeatedly challenged Shell’s use of such figures, which have been strongly criticized by environmental groups and communities.  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.

Shell’s figures are totally lacking in credibility.  Widespread oil pollution is a key problem caused by oil industry in the Niger Delta, but the oil spill investigation system is totally lacking in independence.

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