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Shell's Oloibiri oil well in Nigeria, the first sunk in West Africa, in 1956. Photo: Rhys Thom via Flickr.
Shell's Oloibiri oil well in Nigeria, the first sunk in West Africa, in 1956. Photo: Rhys Thom via Flickr.
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Nigeria: Shell's false oil spill claims exposed in court

Sarah Shoraka

23rd November 2014

A London court has forced Shell to disclose documents about its pipelines and oils spills in Nigeria, writes Sarah Shoraka - and they reveal that the company has lied about the scale of oil spills in previous legal actions, and concealed the terminally poor condition of its pipelines.

The potential repercussions are that hundreds of thousands of people may have been denied or underpaid compensation based on similar underestimates of other spills.

Shell has been forced to reveal documents as part of an ongoing legal case against them in the UK High Court brought by 15,000 community members in Bodo in the Niger Delta.

The documents expose the fact that Shell has repeatedly made false claims about the size and impact of two major oil spills at Bodo in an attempt to minimize its compensation payments.

The documents also show that Shell has known for years that its pipelines in the Niger Delta were old and faulty.

It emerged that Shell did not tell the truth to the court in The Hague in the legal action brought by Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerian farmers in 2013.

The action was taken against Shell due to major oil spills in three Nigerian villages. The documents show that Shell lied about the situation in the village of Goi.

100,000 barrels spilt, says AI - but Shell only admitted to 1,640

Shell's joint investigation report for the first oil spill in the Bodo area of the Niger Delta claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in total.

However, based on an independent assessment published by US firm Accufacts Inc., Amnesty International calculated the total amount of oil spilt exceeded 100,000 barrels.

Shell initially denied this and repeatedly defended its far lower figure. In the court documents Shell admits its figure is wrong in both this case, and that of a second spill, also in 2008, in the same area.

The admission throws Shell's assessment of hundreds of other Nigeria spills into doubt, as all spill investigations are conducted in the same manner.

The potential repercussions are that hundreds of thousands of people may have been denied or underpaid compensation based on similar underestimates of other spills.

Pipelines in very poor condition - and Shell knew it

The court documents also show for the first time that Shell knew for years that its oil pipelines were in very poor condition and likely to leak. The court papers include an internal memo by Shell based on a 2002 study that states:

"the remaining life of most of the [Shell] Oil Trunklines is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard". 

In another internal document dated 10 December 2009 a Shell employee warns:

"[the company] is corporately exposed as the pipelines in Ogoniland have not been maintained properly or integrity assessed for over 15 years".

In the Dutch case, Shell argued in court that spills from its pipeline in Goi could not be blamed on the company's negligence. Shell's lawyer pointed to the precautionary measures that Shell had taken, such as the installation of a Leak Detection System.

In part because of its reference to this system, in 2013 Shell was not held responsible for the spills in Goi. But the documents that Shell have been forced to divulge to a British court now, reveal that no Leak Detection System was in place.

Milieudefensie's lawyer has submitted to the court in The Hague a portion of the documents that came to light via the British court. On 12 March of next year, this court will hold its first session in the appeal that Milieudefensie and the Nigerian farmers have brought against the 2013 verdict by the court in The Hague.

Shell's toxic legacy

Shell is responsible for a toxic legacy in the Niger Delta. People are dying, sick, can't feed themselves and have no clean water because Shell destroyed their environment by drilling for oil.

UNEP researched the destruction, publishing a report in 2011. The report concluded that Shell had not taken sufficient action to clean up and set out initial steps to rectify the damage.

Platform's research in Ogoniland shows that Shell has still not cleaned up, almost 3 years after the UNEP report was published. Platform witnessed creeks and soil reeking of oil, in areas that Shell claims to have remediated.

Environment Advocacy Video from Media for Justice Project on Vimeo.

Communities report oil crusts on their land, rotten crops and poisoned fish. Emergency water supplies have not been delivered, forcing local residents to drink oil-polluted water.

A No Progress report by Platform and Friends of Earth Europe, Amnesty International, Environmental Rights Action and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) in August 2014 charted the systemic failure of the Nigerian Government and Shell to clean up horrendous oil pollution in the Niger Delta.



Action: Sign the petition to Shell's CEO telling them to clean up oil pollution in the Niger Delta.

This article was originally published by Platform London.



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