UN confirms massive oil pollution in Niger Delta

The oil company Shell has had a disastrous impact on the human rights of the people living in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, said Amnesty International, responding to a UN report on the effects of oil pollution in Ogoniland in the Delta region.

The report from the United Nations Environment Programme is the first of its kind in Nigeria and based on two years of in-depth scientific research. It found that oil contamination is widespread and severe, and that people in the Niger Delta have been exposed for decades.

“This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards,” said Amnesty International Global Issues Director, Audrey Gaughran, who has researched the human rights impacts of pollution in the Delta.

The report, which was conducted at the request of the Nigerian government and paid for by Shell, provides irrefutable evidence of the devastating impact of oil pollution on people’s lives in the Delta – one of Africa’s most bio-diverse regions.  It examines the damage to agriculture and fisheries, which has destroyed livelihoods and food sources. One of the most serious facts to come to light is the scale of contamination of drinking water, which has exposed communities to serious health risks. In one case water was found to contain a known carcinogen at levels 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. UNEP has recommended emergency measures to alert communities to the danger.

The report reveals Shell’s systemic failure to address oil spills going back many years. UNEP describes how sites that Shell claimed were cleaned up were found by UNEP experts to be still polluted.  “Shell must put its hands up, and face the fact that it has to deal with the damage it has caused. Trying to hide behind the actions of others, when Shell is the most powerful actor on the scene, simply won’t wash,” said Audrey Gaughran. “There is no solution to the oil pollution in Niger Delta as long as Shell continues to focus on protecting its corporate image at the expense of the truth, and at the expense of justice”. 

The report’s findings also expose the serious failure of the Nigerian government to regulate and control companies like Shell. UNEP found that Nigeria’s regulators are weak and Nigeria’s oil spill investigation agency is often totally reliant on the oil companies to do its work.

The Nigerian government, the oil companies, and the home governments of these companies, such as the UK and Netherlands, have all benefited from oil extraction in the Niger Delta and should now support a social and environmental rehabilitation process, said Amnesty International.

“This report should also be a wake-up call to institutional investors. In the past they’ve allowed Shell’s Public Relations machine to pull the wool over their eyes, but they will now want to see the company cleaning up its act in the Niger Delta – that means putting real pressure on Shell to avoid spillages, compensate those already affected and disclose more accurate information on their impacts,” said Audrey Gaughran.

The UN report notes that there are other, relatively new, sources of pollution in Ogoniland, such as illegal refining but it is clear that Shell’s poor practice stretching back decades is a major factor in the contamination of Ogoniland.

On 3 August 2011 it was widely reported that Shell had accepted liability for two major spills in Ogoniland in 2008.  The spills at Bodo, which severely damaged the livelihoods of the community, have still not been cleaned up almost three years later.  Background

The oil industry in the Niger Delta started commercial production in 1958 following the discovery of crude oil at Oloibiri by Shell British Petroleum (now Royal Dutch Shell). Today, the oil industry is highly visible in the Niger Delta and has control over a large amount of land. Shell alone operates over 31,000 square kilometres.

The oil and gas sector represents 97 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange revenues andcontributes 79.5 per cent of government revenues. Oil has generated an estimated $600 billion since the 1960s.

The oil industry in the Niger Delta comprises both the government of Nigeria and subsidiaries of multinational companies such as Shell, Eni, Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil, as well as some Nigerian companies.

According to the UN Development Program (UNDP), more than 60 per cent of the people in the region depend on the natural environment for their livelihood.

According to UNDP, more than 6,800 spills were recorded between 1976 and 2001, with a loss of approximately 3 million barrels of oil. Many experts believe that due to under-reporting the true figures may be far higher.

Under Nigerian regulations oil companies must clean up all oil spills. However these regulations are not enforced.