Shell Accused of Knowing Pipes Faulty Before Nigeria Spills

Royal Dutch Shell Plc has been accused by Amnesty International of downplaying the size of two oil spills in Nigeria and knowing the pipelines were faulty before they burst.

While a joint investigation by Shell Nigeria, the local community and government agencies originally found that about 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Bodo in 2008, calculations by the human rights group show the total for both spills exceeded 100,000 barrels, Amnesty said in a statement today. An internal company memo dated 2002 warned some sections of the pipeline contained “major risk or hazard,” according to documents obtained by Amnesty and filed with a London court.

“We accept that the total volume of oil released as a result of the two operational spills is likely to have exceeded the Joint Investigation Visit estimates,” Shell said in an e-mailed statement. But Shell Nigeria “dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate.”

The spills destroyed homes, farms, and fishing waters in the Niger River delta, Amnesty said. A lawsuit brought by 15,000 Nigerians goes to trial in London in May. Shell won a preliminary ruling in June, limiting the scope of U.K. litigation to an assessment of actual damages caused.

Spill Investigations

Shell’s admission that it may have underestimated the volume of leaked oil makes its assessments of other Nigerian spills questionable, since spill investigations are conducted in the same manner, Amnesty said.

Hundreds of spills occur every year in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and largest economy. Pipeline ruptures can be caused by corrosion, poor maintenance and equipment failure, and attacks by thieves and saboteurs.

“It’s outrageous that Shell has continued to blame the vast majority of its spills on saboteurs while knowing full well how bad a state its pipelines were in,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director for global issues, said in the statement.

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