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Shell Accused of Misleading Data Over Nigerian Spills

Royal Dutch Shell Plc was accused by Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International of using discredited and misleading information in blaming the majority of oil spills in the Niger Delta on saboteurs.

The two groups said in an e-mailed report today that they filed an official complaint with the U.K. and Dutch governments against Shell over breaches of basic standards for responsible business set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Shell denied the allegation.

The oil producer uses figures that purport to show that as many as 98 percent of oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by sabotage, Amnesty and Friends of the Earth said. Under Nigerian law, when spills are classified as being the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability, they said. Nigeria is the largest oil producing nation in Africa.

“Shell’s figures are totally lacking in credibility,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director of global issues. “The oil spill investigation system is totally lacking in independence.”

Every oil spill is independently investigated by a joint inspection team representing the company and government officials along with local community members, Shell said today by e-mail. The 98 percent figure was reported for the spills in 2009 and “we stand by these figures and publish them annually because we can back them up if necessary,” the company said.

In the past five years, less than 30 percent of spills at Shell’s joint venture in Nigeria have been due to corrosion, human error and equipment failure, the company says on its website. “The majority have been caused by sabotage or theft.”

Assessment of damage from crude spills in part of the Niger River delta was being hindered by “angry mobs,” Mike Cowing, an official of the United Nations Environment Program, said in August. Shell’s Nigerian unit was funding the study, he said at the time.

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