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Shell Acknowledges More Oil Spills in Niger River Delta

LAGOS, Nigeria

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell announced this week that it had found two new oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta region on May 7. The leaks are being investigated to determine their cause and extent, the company said.

The announcement came as environmental and human rights organizations Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International, along with other civil society groups are stepping up protests about Shell’s impact on water in Nigeria.

Last week, Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, told press during a visit to Washington, DC that an interim report on the UN Environment Program report on oil pollution in Ogoniland had been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan for further action. The report will be evaluated "to determine areas for adoption", she said.

The UNEP report, released last year, warned that many sites that the Anglo-Dutch oil company said had been cleaned still suffered pollution, exceeding both Nigerian government and UNEP standards, and revealed consequent serious groundwater contamination. The report made recommendations for both immediate and long-term remedial actions.

An Amnesty International report released in late April accused Shell of deliberately under-reporting a 2008 oil spill in the Niger Delta, and the organization has since begun a campaign to create the maximum publicity for the environmental damage it says Shell has been causing in Nigeria for decades.

Shell last week issued a statement disagreeing with Amnesty International’s assessment of the amount of oil involved in the spill. Amnesty based its findings on a report from US firm Accufacts which claimed a video of the leak suggested that between 1,440 and 4,320 barrels of oil were spilling into the area each day. Shell said its investigations revealed a total of 1,640 barrels of oil spilled over the entire period. The timeframe is also disputed, with Amnesty claiming the spill lasted 10 weeks and Shell four weeks. 

Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands – is also taking Shell Nigeria and its parent company to court in the Netherlands on behalf of local Nigerian fishermen and farmers affected by the spills.

A court hearing will be held in October in The Hague which marks a success for Amnesty -- Shell had argued that the Dutch court was not competent to make judgments on Shell in Nigeria.

Amnesty International, the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Friends of the Earth, oil-affected communities and other groups last week held a peaceful demonstration outside Shell’s offices in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to highlight the human rights and environmental impact of the company’s operations in the Niger Delta. The protest was part of a global week of action which saw demonstrations outside Shell offices and gas stations around the world.

The Niger River Basin.

The groups called on Shell to immediately take concrete steps to clean up all oil spills to internationally-accepted standards, ensure independent verification of the clean-ups, and apologize to and compensate those affected by pollution and environmental damage.

Shell responded with a briefing note highlighting massive thefts of crude oil by “heavily-armed and well-organized groups,” as well as the kidnapping of 19 of its employees last year and one employee fatality in December 2010.

Shell Nigeria country chair and Shell Managing Director Mutiu Sunmonu said: “We estimate that some 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen from facilities every day. This is a huge amount -- and the effects of this industrial-scale theft are devastating for both the people and the environment…The land, the shorelines and the water are heavily polluted with oil as a result of these activities.”

Speculating that the thefts may be connected to an international syndicate, Sunmonu warned that if the crimes continued at their current rate, the effects on Nigeria’s social and environmental structures and economy could be “devastating.”