Nigeria and Shell have failed to cleanup decades’ old oil spills (Wired UK)


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Three years after being told by
the UN that oil pollution in the Niger Delta demanded a $1 billion
cleanup, the Nigerian government and Shell have both failed to make
any progress on the matter.

The “No Progress” report — carried out by Friends of Earth
Europe, Amnesty International, Environmental Rights Action,
Platform and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and
Development — highlights a situation that has seen the people of
Ogoniland potentially drinking polluted water for the past two
decades.

The problem traces back to the 90s when Shell was carrying out
projects in the region, home to around a million people. The Dutch
company pulled out of the region in 1993 after Nigerian
authorities executed activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had
campaigned against the extraction of oil in his homeland of
Ogoniland. In 2011, the Nigerian government finally requested the
UN Environment Programme investigate the Niger Delta, and a report
was produced with the financial backing of Shell.

After nearly two decades of the site being abandoned, the
scientific study revealed that there was still widespread pollution
of the Niger Delta that placed the local communities at direct
risk. It recommended that $1 billion be poured into the creation of
an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority and Environmental
Restoration Fund, after identifying that Shell cleanup procedures
in the 90s had failed to remedy the damage caused by a series
of historical oil spills.

In the time that has passed since the UNEP report was published,
Nigeria has launched the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project
(HYPREP), supposedly to implement the changes the UN report
demanded, and Shell has commissioned another non-governmental body
to carry out another report (with the same outcome) and provided
aid in the form of emergency water measures. But that’s it.

“The government has done very little,” director of Global Issues
at Amnesty International Audrey Gaughran told Wired.co.uk. “They
setup HYPREP but it seems to be a fig leaf that does almost
nothing.” She points us to its website, where the last story was
published more than a year ago.
The first memo on the homepage relates to raising public awareness
around the dangers of stealing oil (something Shell has routinely
tried to blame past pollution incidents on), and the other two
relate to the commissioning of more studies. There is no
information that we can see, relating to clean-ups of the site.

“Our colleagues have tried to go to the HYPREP office several
times and it’s just shut,” says Gaughran. “It’s achieved almost
nothing, aside from a little bit of the emergency water supply
work.”

Likewise, she says that Shell has talked about a “lot of
processes”, but nothing has actually come of those procedures.

Part of the problem is the fact that in the 90s the government
certified the Delta region as safe — “suggesting their
certifications are fairly meaningless”. This was following Shell’s
own cleanup procedures. The fact that the UNEP found significant
pollution levels, particularly of the carcinogen benzene, suggests
Shell’s own procedures are at fault. “Their remediation processes
have done harm simply because they were not working,” says
Gaughran. “Because it gave the illusion the site was cleaned, but
actually it was affecting groundwater. Communities were told it was
certified so parents would think ‘I don’t have to worry about my
children playing near the soil and water.’

“People have been drinking water without having the scientific
facts before them — the report found some people thought the water
was likely to be contaminated but had no choice, others just didn’t
know it was contaminated because no one has ever told them.”

Shell and the local government began providing emergency water
after the UNEP report, but the No Progress report found those
measures to be “erratic”. Shell says it has invested in a water
supply system, but has not responded to Amnesty’s requests to show
it is reaching the relevant communities.

According to the No Progress report, Shell has routinely blamed
a lack of access to the site for the failed cleanup. This is partly
because local communities do not trust them or want them there,
“for good reason” says Gaughran. “To be fair communities do
sometimes resist because they fear Shell will wipe away evidence of
wrongdoing — that does happen. But the UNEP report and the new
report shows Shell is using that thing that happens
sometimes as an excuse for failing to return, going back
years.”

Amnesty has reports of Shell going to certain sites, and does
not accept that in the 17 years prior to the UNEP report, the
company was unable to carry out basic procedures, such as sealing
wells.

“Shell has told us they have overhauled their processes, but
there’s nothing to back that up — there’s no evidence. Shell has
certainly taken more ‘action’, but that amounts to lots of things
that seem on the surface to be helpful but actually amount to
almost nothing.

“In the mid-90s when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed Shell did a lot
of the same things and said a lot of similar things. It said it was
responding to concerns and changing this and that. If you look at
what it did change, it was very little — it was PR.”

The company seems to constantly commission studies, she says.
One in particular that Shell paid for shortly after the activists
execution in 1993, is one of the biggest environmental studies of
the Niger Delta to date. But it has never seen the light of day.
“We’ve seen snippets, and those revealed serious damage.”

Despite the claims being made in the report, Gaughran is not
optimistic changes will be made — partially because of the alleged
intricate ties between the Nigerian government and Shell going back
50 years. Indicating to the Wikileaks diplomatic cable released in
2010 that revealed how a top Shell executive in Nigeria told US
diplomats the company had employees in every government department
related to its work, Gaughran tells us “they have influence in the
government, so saying they can’t access the site is not a credible
argument. If they wanted something to happen, it would”.

Admitting liability could potentially stump the Dutch company
with further costs. Though, back in 2011 Shell did admit to
being responsible
for two major spills in the same region. In
that instance, the company insisted it would resolve the issue
under Nigerian law. But the No Progress report is calling for
pressure to be exerted not just by the Nigerian government, but the
Netherlands and the UK, where Shell has its headquarters.

“Three years after finding out that their operations have
exposed almost every man, woman and child in Ogoniland — and
almost certainly tens of thousands of people in others parts of the
Niger Delta — to lifelong pollution, Shell is still more concerned
with protecting itself,” said Paul de Clerk of Friends of the Earth
Europe. “Governments of Nigeria and the home countries of Shell,
Netherlands and the UK, should make sure that Shell starts a proper
clean up and compensates the damage.”

A spokesperson for Shell has said that the company, along with
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, SPDC, Total E&P
Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Agip Oil Company, has in fact “made
progress” in addressing all the UNEP recommendations.

“The majority of UNEP’s recommendations require
multi-stakeholder efforts coordinated by the Federal Government.
However, it is important to emphasise that neither the Shell
Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) nor any
other stakeholder is in a position to implement the entirety of
UNEP’s recommendations unilaterally. As the UNEP report stated:
‘Treating the problem of environmental contamination within
Ogoniland merely as a technical clean-up exercise would ultimately
lead to failure. Ensuring long-term sustainability is a much bigger
challenge — one that will require coordinated and collaborative
action from all stakeholders.’

“SPDC has an activity programme in place, focused on delivering
improvements in the environmental and community health situation on
the ground. We continue to work with the government, communities
and a number of constructive NGOs and civil society groups in the
Niger Delta to accelerate progress.”

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4 August 2014 | 9:03 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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