August 5, 2011

UNEP Report Uncovers Shell’s Poisoned Legacy In Ogoniland

Investigation finds shocking levels of pollution from oil spills in Ogoniland, even at spill sites that companies claim to have cleaned up.

Photo of oil spill, taken during February 2010 UNPO visit to Ogoniland

Below is an article published by UNPO:

A landmark report issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) following years of investigation, lays bare the failures of oil companies in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The report was conducted at the request of the Nigerian government and was financed by Shell.

Echoing the claims of Ogoni communities that have long fallen on deaf ears, the UNEP report confirmed that the environment of Ogoniland has been devastated by the estimated 546 million gallons of oil that spilled in the region over the course of five decades.

Key findings of the report include extremely high levels of oil contamination in drinking water (1000 times the amount permitted by Nigerian drinking water standards); soil contaminated with oil having been dumped by oil companies into unlined, unsealed pits; high levels of contamination in most of the spill sites that oil companies claim to have cleaned up. 

The report concluded that the cleanup of widespread oil spills in the Niger Delta could take up to 30 years and cost up to $1 billion. If realized, these figures would make it the largest cleanup operation in history.

In an interview with the BBC, Ben Amunwa of the British group PLATFORM said that the evidence contained in the report could lead to a “mountain of claims” for compensation from communities in the Niger Delta region.

In the wake of the report, Shell has continued to assert its innocence in the large majority of spills, blaming most on sabotage and attempts to steal oil.

However, earlier this week Shell admitted responsibility for two devastating oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria. The flow of oil from consecutive ruptures of high-pressure oil pipelines in 2008 was allowed to continue for months before it was finally stopped. Following the second rupture in December 2008, Shell did not send anyone to inspect and repair the pipeline for two months, during which time an estimated 2,000 barrels per day were allowed to flow into the surrounding wetlands.

As in cases throughout the Niger Delta, these spills have devastated the surrounding population, the majority of whom are fishermen or otherwise rely on the waterways for their livelihoods. UNPO visited a spill site in the area in early 2010, and noted widespread devastation alongside a complete lack of cleanup efforts.

Commenting in the Guardian on 4 August 2011, Patrick Naagbanton, an Ogoni journalist and activist, wrote about the effects of the spills on the local community:

 Oil spills have effectively destroyed my community. Local farmers and fishers were forced to abandon their traditional ways of life. Bodo Creek is, ecologically speaking, dead. The fish that were not killed by the heavy pollution now reek of petroleum and cannot sustain a village population of 69,000 people. Shell has violated our basic human rights to food, water and livelihood. The compensation Shell offered us – £3,500 plus bags of rice and sugar – was insulting and wholly inadequate.

A statement issued by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) said that the report vindicated the organization’s long-championed concerns about the devastation of the environment in Ogoniland. However, the statement reiterated MOSOP’s concerns about the processes leading up to the report, from which the Ogoni people and other important stakeholders were largely excluded.

MOSOP has been a Member of UNPO since 1993. In 1995, UNPO undertook its first mission to the Niger Delta at the invitation of MOSOP and Shell to investigate and report on the situation of the Ogoni.

MOSOP leader and UNPO vice president Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested shortly before UNPO’s visit, and following a heavily manipulated trial before a special military tribunal, he and eight fellow activists were executed by the Nigerian government. While it was widely reported that Shell employees had actively participated in rigging the trial against the activists, including by bribing witnesses to give false testimony, the company was not forced to take responsibility until 2009 when the company settled out of court with Saro-Wiwa’s family days before a wrongful death lawsuit against Shell was set to begin.

Coinciding with a call made upon UNPO by the International Crisis Group in December 2008, a programme of engagement was set in motion that culminated in November 2010, with UNPO working alongside a coalition of Dutch NGOs to organize an event commemorating the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa and call for an end to Shell’s impunity for their actions in the Niger Delta.

UNPO travelled to Ogoniland once again in February 2010 as part of a project funded by the Nando Peretti Foundation. During this mission, UNPO led a special two-day youth training workshop in Port Harcourt which focused on leadership, rights-based approaches to conservation and international mechanisms for the protection of the environment. UNPO also led an afternoon session in the human rights club of Community Secondary School Bori.