Amnesty International accuses Shell of downplaying the extent of oil spills in Nigeria. The causes were concealed.
Before the oil spill, Bodo-Creek was a thriving fishing port. Image: reuters
It was one of the worst environmental disasters in Nigeria: in 2008, thousands of barrels (casks) of oil gushed from a leak in an oil pipeline belonging to the Shell corporation in Bodo Creek in the Niger Delta. Around 30,000 people, most of whom live from fishing and agriculture, lose their livelihoods. Large areas of mangrove forests are destroyed.
In a report, the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) now accuses Shell of having provided false information about this and other oil spills in Nigeria. Furthermore, the company is alleged to have made false statements about the cause of leaks in order to avoid having to pay damages.
According to the Dutch-British oil company, a total of 1,640 barrels of oil flowed into Bodo Creek from October 5, 2008. However, documents from the Nigerian government and the responsible municipality show that oil had already been flowing out since August 28 of the year in question. The U.S. company Accufacts, commissioned by Amnesty International to investigate the incident, concludes that up to 4,320 barrels of oil a day polluted the waters for at least 72 days.
When confronted with this information, Shell stated, according to Amnesty International, that the pipeline had been shut down; therefore, not that much oil could have leaked. However, video recordings prove that oil was still flowing into the water on November 7, 2008. Shell also argues contradictorily on other points: for example, the company stated that in the period between October 30, 2008 and December 2009, the oil spills in Bodo Creek had been cleaned up. At the same time, the company stated that they had not had access to the area to stop another oil leak that occurred on December 7, 2008.
A sad place
Lawyer Martyn Day of the British law firm Leigh Day, which represents about 15,000 Bodo residents, called Shell’s estimates of the extent of the disaster "complete nonsense." "Many thousands of acres of mangrove forests have been destroyed," he said. "Bodo was a thriving and vibrant fishing port. Now it’s as good as dead. It’s a very, very sad place."
Amnesty continues to accuse Shell of falsely attributing oil leaks in the Niger Delta to acts of sabotage or illegal tapping of oil pipelines – in these cases, a company has to pay little or no compensation to those affected. Shell Nigeria, in a response to the AI report, rejected the "baseless allegations." Solutions must be found to "the terrible tragedy of oil spills in the Niger Delta," the company said. Shell was the first company to begin oil production there. Production started in 1958.
The Amnesty International report is the first to reveal the extent of oil spills in the area in the first place. According to the report, the three oil companies active there caused at least 3,000 oil leaks within six years. In 2012, 207 oil leaks were caused by Shell and as many as 474 spills were caused by AGIP, the Nigerian subsidiary of Italian oil company ENI, according to the report, for which experts from Accufacts analyzed numerous documents and records.
Amnesty also strongly criticized the Nigerian government, which holds shares in both Shell Nigeria and AGIP. It said it had failed to control the oil industry and prevent environmental damage and human rights abuses. AI also called on the Italian and Dutch governments to review the activities of their oil companies in Nigeria and ensure that people in affected areas are also helped.