Amnesty International, Responding to United Nations Report on Disastrous Oil Pollution in Nigeria, Demands Accountability from Shell Oil Company

Press Release
August 4, 2011

Amnesty International, Responding to United Nations Report on Disastrous Oil Pollution in Nigeria, Demands Accountability from Shell Oil Company

Amnesty International Urges Institutional Investors to Urge Shell To "Clean Up Its Act" in Niger Delta

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) - Amnesty International said today that Shell oil company has had a disastrous impact on the human rights of people living in the Niger Delta and must be held to account. The organization was responding to a United Nations report - the first of its kind in Nigeria -- on the severe and widespread effects of oil pollution in Ogoniland in the Delta region.

The report from the United Nations Environment Program is 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 and is the author of a groundbreaking 2009 report, "Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta."

The U.N. 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. The U.N. Environment Program has recommended emergency measures to alert communities to the danger.

"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 Gaughran.

The report reveals Shell's systemic failure to address oil spills going back many years and 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 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 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.

The U.N. 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 Wednesday, news media 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 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 U.N. 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.