January 27, 2011

Oil spill: Shell modifies data to 70% from 98%

By Clara Nwachukwu with agency reports
LAGOS — For the second time in two years, the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, has been forced to modify the cause of oil spill in its areas of operations in the Niger Delta.

Under a thorough grill by the Dutch Parliament yesterday, Shell was forced to admit that about 70 per cent of the spills over the past five years were caused by sabotage, contrary to its earlier claims that it was 98 per cent, attributing only two per cent to the company.

At a hearing in The Hague, yesterday, of the case, which was instituted by Amnesty International, AI, and Friends of the Environment, FOE, the Head of Shell Exploration & Production for Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Ian Craig, admitted: “We do bear some responsibility, but we cannot bear it entirely.”

He said about 70 per cent of oil spills were caused by sabotage while the remainder could be blamed on SPDC.

The parliamentary hearing was held as part of an examination into whether Shell is responsible for environmental damage caused by its operations in Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. Shell is part of the SPDC joint venture in the Niger Delta.

Previous claims
In 2009, Shell was also compelled to correct misleading information regarding the cause of oil spills. “After repeatedly claiming that 85 per cent of all oil spills in 2008 were caused by sabotage, it announced that the figure was closer to 50 per cent. Neither the claims of 85 per cent or 50 per cent have been properly explained.”

Shell had previously been imposed a fine of $100 million by a Federal High Court for a 40-year-old oil spill in the Ejama-Ebubu community in 1970, which it is still contesting in court.

More than 500 pollution cases have been filed in Nigerian courts against Shell Nigeria, but few have made their way through the judicial labyrinth to receive compensation.

Friends of the Earth and four Niger Delta residents filed a civil suit in The Hague last year against the Anglo Dutch oil giant for alleged negligence in cleaning oil spills.

At the hearing

During the hearing, Amnesty International and environmental groups accused Shell of abusing human rights, failing to clean up disastrous environmental damage and continuing the hazardous practice of flaring gas from about 100 wells.

Hours earlier, Friends of the Earth activists scaled the company’s headquarters in The Hague and hung a banner reading: “Shell, let’s go clean up Nigeria.” Some activists dressed as oil-smeared birds and held photographs of despoiled farmland swimming in oil.

Environmental abuse and Shell’s failure to clean up the mess led to “widespread human rights violations,” including the right to food, clean water, livelihood and good health, said Mr Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director of global issues.

Shell’s failure to adequately compensate victims “led directly to community conflict and distrust,” she told a panel of Dutch legislators.

Shell blames government

Refusing to shoulder the blames alone, Shell argued that the Federal Government also shared in the blame, saying: “When it comes to issues of the safety of people and crime … it’s the responsibility of the government. That’s not happening. But you can’t lay it on our doorstep,” said Peter de Wit, director of Shell Netherlands.

Shell said government agencies determined responsibility for pollution, but activist Gaughran insisted that “the investigation system is deeply flawed. It is dominated by the oil companies.”

Craig also submitted earlier that Shell compensates residents for pollution caused by faulty production, but paying for damage from exploded pipelines would provide a “perverse incentive” for more attacks.

Shell says it now pollutes less and blames spills on thieves breaking into pipelines.

But placard carrying environmental activists had accused Shell of double standards and accused the company of destroying lives and the environment in the Niger Delta, and urged Dutch MPs to intervene.

“When will you stop treating people in Nigeria differently than you treat people in the Netherlands? When will you stop applying double standards?” Geert Ritsema of the NGO Milieudefensie asked Shell at the hearing.

But Shell Netherlands President, Mr. Peter de Wit, replied, “We consider that Shell is doing a good job often under difficult circumstances,” insisting the company applied “global standards” to its operations around the world.

“Our operations generally are conducted there without any problems,” he added.

Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International on Tuesday filed an official complaint against Shell in the U.K. and Netherlands, for breaches of basic standards for responsible business set out by the Organisation for Economic Co_operation and Development, OECD.