Royal Dutch Shell Plc has failed to clean up four oil-spill sites in the crude-producing Niger River delta, three of which an under-resourced Nigerian regulator dealing with leakages said had been decontaminated, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday.
At Shell’s Bomu Well 11, Amnesty researchers found blackened soil and oil layers on the water 45 years after a spill took place, despite the company saying it cleaned the area in 1975 and 2012. At the three other sites, certified as clean by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, or Nosdra, researchers also found soil and water contaminated close to where people lived, the rights group said.
“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” Mark Dummett, a London-based business and human-rights researcher at Amnesty, said in a statement. “Anyone who visits these spill sites can see and smell for themselves how the pollution has spread across the land.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in August he’s accelerating plans for one of the world’s largest oil cleanups following 50 years of spillage at operations in the Ogoniland region of the Niger delta. Amnesty timed the release of its report a week ahead of with the 20-year anniversary of the death of Ogoniland activist and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who campaigned for oil-spill compensation and was hanged by the then military government.
Shell “is committed to cleaning up all spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause,” Precious Okolobo, a Lagos-based spokesman for Shell, said by e-mail. “This is equally the case in Ogoniland, despite the fact that we ceased producing oil and gas there in 1993.”
Idris Musa, director of oil field assessment at Nosdra, declined to comment, referring questions to the agency’s director general, Peter Idabor. Calls to Idabor’s mobile phone didn’t connect and an e-mail sent to his office requesting comment wasn’t immediately answered.
Africa’s largest oil producer has been criticized for failing to act on a 2011 report by the United Nations that linked oil spills in Ogoniland to groundwater contamination, including cancer-causing substances, and polluted ecosystems, posing threats to the health of humans and wildlife. The UN said the recovery would be the world’s “most wide-ranging and long-term oil cleanup” lasting three decades and it would take an initial capital injection of $1 billion.
In a letter to Amnesty dated Oct. 24, Alice Ajeh, a stakeholder relations manager at Shell’s Nigerian unit, said the company is committed to the implementation of the UN report and has started action on all the recommendations directed to Shell.
Shell “would like to reiterate that we have consistently and publicly reported our actions in this regard as well as highlighted ongoing challenges of crude oil theft and illegal refining,” Ajeh said in the letter published in Amnesty’s report. “In addition to complying with Nigerian regulation, we are in regular dialogue and consultation with Niger delta NGOs and community representatives aimed at driving continuous improvement.”
Hundreds of spills occur every year in Nigeria, damaging the environment and destroying the livelihood of fishing and farming communities in the Niger delta region. Pipeline ruptures can be caused by corrosion, poor maintenance and equipment failure, as well as by thieves and saboteurs.
While security and theft in the Niger delta haven’t gotten worse recently, “this issue has not gone away,” Shell Nigeria Chairman Osagie Okunbor told reporters in September.
Shell reported 1,693 spills between 2007 and 2014, which Amnesty said understates the amount and impact.
The largest international oil company operating in Nigeria, Shell agreed in January to pay 55 million pounds ($85 million) to compensate more than 15,000 residents of the Bodo community for two oil spills in 2008. The settlement ended a three-year legal case in a London court.
Amnesty recommended Nigeria’s government strengthen and increase NOSDRA’s capacity and budget and audit how the regulator certified the spill sites as clean. The rights group also said Shell should carry out effective clean-up and remediation operations at Bomu Manifold, Barabeedom swamp, Okuluebu and Boobanade, and pay all affected communities adequate compensation.