Shell and the Oil Spills in Nigeria

At Amnesty International and CEHRD’s request, the independent US oil pipeline specialist Accufacts assessed a number of oil spill investigation reports, as well as responses from oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s national oil spill agency.  The expert found cases where the stated cause of an oil spill appears to be wrongly attributed to sabotage [by the local population]. In many other cases sabotage was listed as the cause when there was little or no data recorded to back up the claim.

Overall, Accufacts concluded that many official investigation reports were “technically incomplete”, and others “appear to be serving another agenda, more driven by politics…than pipeline forensic science”.  Nigeria’s under-resourced regulatory agencies have little oversight or control of the process and are dependent on the oil companies to carry out investigations.

In one incident, a regulator sent a student on work experience as their sole representative to an oil spill investigation.  “This is a system that is wide open to abuse – and abuse happens. There is no one to challenge the oil companies and almost no way to independently verify what they say. In effect it’s ‘trust us – we’re big oil,” said Gaughran.

Shell has made some improvements to its investigation reports since 2011, including the addition of images of oil spills on its corporate website. But serious flaws remain, including weaknesses in the underlying evidence used to attribute spills to sabotage.  Information listed in oil spill investigation reports determines whether oil companies are liable to pay compensation to affected communities.  Despite serious flaws, the reports are cited as evidence in litigation.

Amnesty International and CEHRD found evidence of Shell having changed the officially recorded cause of a spill after an investigation had taken place. In one incident, secretly filmed video of an investigation shows how officials from Shell and the regulator tried to subvert the evidence by persuading community members on the investigation team not to attribute the cause to equipment failure. Video footage of a leak from an oil spill in Bodo from 2008 reviewed by Accufacts shows that Shell seriously under-recorded the volume spilled.  Shell’s official investigation report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled in total but other evidence points to the amount being at least 60 times higher…

The report argues that companies should be legally liable for failure to take effective action to protect their systems, including from sabotage.

Amnesty International and CEHRD are calling on the oil companies to publish all investigation reports, associated photos and videos. They must provide verifiable evidence of the cause and damage to the impacted area.

Shell’s false claims on Niger Delta oil spills exposed, Amnesty International Press Release, Nov. 7, 2013

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