Nigeria: Oil spill investigations 'a fiasco' in the Niger Delta - new report

Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) have challenged oil company Shell’s claims that sabotage was responsible for a seven-day-long oil spill in the Niger Delta in June.

In a new report out today the rights groups say a recent investigation into the spill in the Bodo region was “a fiasco” and that there were inconsistencies in the sabotage claims made by the oil giant.

The 14-page report, Another Bodo oil spill, another flawed oil spill investigation in the Niger Delta focuses on the lack of transparency in the joint investigation - by Shell, members of the community and local authorities - and the failure of Shell to disclose any information on the condition or age of its pipelines.

In the report experts who have examined the pipes say there are strong indications the leak was due to corrosion of the pipeline rather than sabotage.
Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International said:

“The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta is a fiasco.

“There is more investment in public relations messaging than in facing up to the fact that much of the oil infrastructure is old, poorly maintained and prone to leaks – some of them devastating in terms of their human rights impact.

“No matter what evidence is presented to Shell about oil spills, they constantly hide behind the ‘sabotage’ excuse and dodge their responsibility for massive pollution which is due to their failure to properly maintain their infrastructure and make it safe, and to properly clean up oil spills.”

Amnesty and CEHRD asked US company Accufacts, which has many years’ experience in examining oil infrastructure, to examine photographs of the pipeline at the leak point. It found damage to the pipeline was “apparently due to external corrosion”. The company pointed out a “layered loss of metal on the outside of the pipe around the "stick" from pipe wall loss (thinning) due to external corrosion”.

“It is a very familiar pattern that we have seen many times on other pipelines," Accufacts said.

Stevyn Obodoekwe, Director of Programmes at CEHRD, said:

“Shell has said locally that the spill looks like sabotage, and they completely ignore the evidence of corrosion. This has generated a lot of confusion and some anger in the community.

“We have seen the pipe and brought an expert to look at it, and it seems pretty clear it is corroded.”

One year ago, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a major report on the effects of oil pollution in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. Little has changed, as this latest oil spill at Bodo demonstrates. Among its findings, UNEP confirmed that Nigerian regulatory agencies “are at the mercy of oil companies when it comes to conducting site inspections”. UNEP also found that Shell had failed to adhere to its own standards in relation to maintaining its infrastructure.

Background

Thousands of oil spills have occurred in the Niger Delta since the oil industry began operations there in the late 1950s. Corrosion of the pipelines and equipment failure have been responsible for the majority of spills.  In recent years sabotage, vandalism and theft of oil have also contributed to pollution. However, corrosion and equipment failure remain very serious problems which have never been addressed.

Oil companies are responsible for ensuring that, as far as possible, their equipment is not vulnerable to tampering.  However, Shell has not responded to a request for information on any measures it has taken to prevent sabotage and vandalism.

Since 2011 Shell has posted oil spill investigation data on its website. This move has been welcomed by Amnesty and CEHRD.  However, as research by both organisations has made clear, the process on the ground remains highly problematic, and there is a lack of independence and transparency in the investigations themselves.

  • Download report: Another Bodo oil spill, another flawed oil spill investigation in the Niger Delta (PDF)

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