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Shell Minimized Impact of Oil Spills in Nigeria: Amnesty International

LONDON, United Kingdom

Documents submitted by Shell as part of a UK court case show that the oil giant repeatedly minimized the size and impact of two major oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, in an attempt to minimize compensation payments, according to human rights group Amnesty International.  

In a new report, “Nigeria: Bad information: Oil spill investigations in the Niger Delta,” Amnesty International also said the documents show that Shell had known for years that its pipelines in the Niger delta were old and faulty.

A UK legal action being brought by 15,000 villagers whose livelihoods were devastated by the oil pollution in 2008 has brought to light emails, letters and documents that show that Shell underestimated the true size of at least two spills as well as the extent of the damage, the group said.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director for global issues, said: “Amnesty International firmly believes Shell knew the Bodo data were wrong. If it did not, it was scandalously negligent -- we repeatedly gave them evidence showing they had dramatically underestimated the spills. Shell has refused to engage with us, and only now that they find themselves in a UK court have they been forced to come clean.”

The report pointed out that Shell’s joint investigation report for the first oil spill in the Bodo area claimed only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled in total. Amnesty has long argued, based on an independent assessment from US-based oil spill consulting firm Accufacts, that the true total was in excess of 100,000 barrels, a figure Shell has denied.

However, the court documents reveal Shell was aware its original figure was wrong in both this first case and that of a second spill in the same year and area. Amnesty noted that “the admission throws Shell’s assessment of hundreds of other Nigeria spills into doubt, as all spill investigations are conducted in the same manner.”

The court papers also include an internal 2002 Shell memo that states that “the remaining life of most of the Oil Trunklines is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard,” Amnesty said.

In a 2009 document, a Shell employee warned that the company “is corporately exposed as the pipelines in Ogoniland have not been maintained properly or integrity assessed for over 15 years,” it added.

Gaughran said: “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. After these revelations, the company stands completely discredited.”

In its defense documents, Shell admits its pipeline failed, but attributes much of the damage in the area to other spills, alleging sabotage and theft.

The court case will be heard next May in London, and it is expected to last around three months.