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(New York) – Two major oil spills in the Niger Delta, which gushed for weeks before they were stopped, have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people, destroying livelihoods, undermining access to food and clean water and putting health at risk, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) said today in a new report, which demands that Shell oil pay $1 billion to begin to clean up the pollution.
The 50-page report, “The True Tragedy: Delays and Failures in Tackling Oil Spills in the Niger Delta,” examines the widespread pollution and devastation caused by the oil spills in Bodo, Ogoniland, in 2008, neither of which have been cleaned up.
"Shell’s failure to promptly stop and clean up oil spills in Bodo has devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people. Bodo is a disaster that should not have happened, yet it is one that due to Shell’s inaction continues to this day. It is time this multi-billion dollar company owns up, cleans up and pays up," said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria.
The United Nations Environment Program recently found that oil pollution over many years had resulted in such devastation that it would take more than 25 years for Ogoniland to recover. The United Nations recommended setting up an Environmental Restoration Fund with an initial amount of $1 billion (U.S.), with further funding to follow.
In 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
"The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The [Nigerian] authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act - without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies," said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordinator.
Shell, which recently reported profits of $7.2 billion for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.
Ongoing damage to fisheries and farmland has resulted in food shortages and higher prices in Bodo. Residents told Amnesty International and CEHRD how they struggle to make a living and have serious health concerns. Alternative jobs are not easy to find. Many young people have been forced to look for work in Port Harcourt, the state capital, 31 miles away.
One fisherman from Bodo, said: "Before the spill, life was easy. The people could live from the catch of fish…After the spill, everything was destroyed."
The pollution has also affected the drinking water. Before the spill, people drank water from creeks and other waterways, from wells or by collecting rain water. A local fisherman said: "When the rain falls down, people used to collect it for drinking water. But today even the rain water is contaminated. It looks black. You cannot drink the rain."
When Amnesty International asked Shell to comment on the failures at Bodo, the company stated that because the Bodo spills were subject to legal proceedings in the United Kingdom, it was unable to respond as directly. Shell said that efforts to address the issues at Bodo are hampered by ongoing sabotage in the area, something strongly challenged by Amnesty International and CEHRD.
"Shell frequently says that most oil spills are caused by sabotage," said Amnesty’s van Kregten. "This claim has been strongly disputed by the communities and NGOs who point out that the process of collecting data on oil spills is flawed. Even at Bodo, where it is accepted the spills are Shell’s fault, the company appears to be using sabotage as an excuse for its failures to comply with Nigerian law and regulations – which require the company to promptly clean up and pay compensation. This is a completely untenable position."
"The facts here are simple," said Naagbanton. "Two spills, both of them the company’s fault, both left to flow for weeks before being stopped, neither cleaned up although three years have passed. There can be no excuses. By any standard, this is a corporate failure."
Nigeria’s government agencies are also strongly criticized in the report for their failure to enforce regulations. The Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources - which is responsible for ensuring the oil industry complies with regulation - is also charged with promoting the oil industry and ensuring maximum revenues.
The Nigerian government agency responsible for oils spills - the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) - is under-resourced and ineffective. The agency has no independent capacity to identify oil spills and is dependent on being notified by the oil company responsible or by the affected community.
The recent U.N. Environment Program report noted that in responding to oil spills, "government agencies are at the mercy of oil companies when it comes to conducting site inspections."
NOSDRA repeatedly failed to enforce standards in the case of the Bodo spills.
On August 28, 2008, a fault in the Trans-Niger pipeline caused a major oil spill in Bodo. The oil poured into the swamp for at least four weeks – probably for as long as 10 weeks. Shell has recorded that 1,640 barrels of oil spilled; however, an independent estimate suggests that as much as 4,000 barrels a day were leaking from the pipe. The spill was eventually stopped on November 7, 2008.
On December 7, 2008, a second spill occurred in Bodo, also due to equipment failure. This spill was reported to Shell on December 9, 2008. It took ten weeks until the spill was stopped.
After trying for years to secure clean up and proper compensation from Shell, the Bodo community took their fight for justice to the U.K. courts earlier this year. The court action is ongoing, but has brought a measure of hope that the situation at Bodo may be resolved.
Note to editors When asked to comment on the issues raised by the report, NOSDRA also responded with limited information. Nigeria’s Department of Petroleum Resources did not respond at all.
Images from the report are available at: https://adam.amnesty.org/asset-bank/action/search?attribute_208=%22AFR+4... The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) is a rural-based and rural-focused non-profit organization founded by conservationists, environmentalists, activists, and health workers in the Niger Delta. CEHRD was formed to respond to the environmental, human rights, rural health, and underdevelopment problems plaguing the Niger Delta.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.