Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s assertions that its Nigerian oil spills are caused by theft and sabotage are often untrue, according to Amnesty International, which said investigations into the incidents have been manipulated.
Shell’s assessment of official probes into the spills has been “subjective, misleading and downright false,” the human-rights group said today in a report. The analysis was carried out by U.S. consultants AccuFacts at the request of London-based Amnesty and the Nigeria-based Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development.
“Shell is being disingenuous about the devastation caused by its Niger Delta operations,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s Director of Global Issues, said today in an e-mailed statement. “This new evidence shows that Shell’s claims about the oil spills cannot be trusted.”
Hundreds of spills occur every year in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, damaging the environment and destroying the livelihood of rural communities in the Niger River delta region. Pipeline ruptures can be caused by corrosion, poor maintenance and equipment failure, as well as by thieves and saboteurs.
Shell “firmly rejects unsubstantiated assertions that they have exaggerated the impact of crude-oil theft and sabotage to distract attention from operational performance,” Precious Okolobo, a spokesman, said in a statement. “We seek to bring greater transparency and independent oversight to the issue of oil spills, and will continue to find ways to enhance this.”
The company, operating in Nigeria for more than 70 years, has faced criticism from locals who say it pollutes the environment. In 2009 Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle U.S. lawsuits brought by Nigerians representing the delta’s Ogoniland area. It denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Separately, Shell’s Nigerian unit was sued in March 2012 in Britain by 11,000 residents of the coastal Bodo community in Ogoniland, who said their land and wetlands were spoiled after two spills in 2008. Settlement talks broke down after their lawyers rejected a compensation offer. Amnesty said in November 2012 that Shell should pay $1 billion to start cleaning the area.
Video footage from Bodo reviewed by AccuFacts shows that Shell “seriously under-recorded” the volume of oil spilled, Amnesty said. Secretly filmed material shows officials from The Hague-based Shell and Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency urging local residents on the investigation team not to blame the incident on equipment failure, the group said.
“Solutions to the terrible tragedy of oil pollution in the Niger Delta need to be found,” Shell’s Okolobo said from Lagos. Crude theft affects people, the environment and the economy and “remains the main cause of oil pollution in the delta today.”