Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nigeria: UN investigation into Nigeria oil spills funded by Shell

By IDN Environment Desk
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

(IDN) - Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) says that it is "outraged" by reports that a major United Nations investigation into Nigeria oil spills, funded by oil giant Shell, relies more on figures produced by oil companies and Nigerian state statistics than on community testimony and organizations on the ground who work with communities.

According to the FoEI, Shell oil spills and gas flaring in Nigeria are a major human rights and environmental tragedy.

Nnimmo Bassey, FoEI chair and director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria said: "We monitor spills regularly and our observations often contradict information produced by oil companies and Nigerian regulatory agencies. If the UNEP (UN Environment Programme) team would ask community monitors it would avoid falling into the trap of spinning Shell's figures.

"The UN assessment is being paid for by Shell so we are not surprised that it tells Shell's version of the facts. But the reality is that several studies have placed the bulk of the blame for oil spills in the Niger Delta on the doorsteps of the oil companies; particularly Shell."

Geert Ritsema from Friends of the Earth Netherlands /Milieudefensie asked UNEP to base its findings mostly on independent sources rather than on information from the oil companies responsible for the massive oil pollution in Nigeria.

Ritsema said the UNEP team head Mike Cowing had "repeated Shell's lies" that only ten percent of oil pollution in Ogoniland was caused by equipment failures and company negligence and 90 percent by locals stealing oil.

"Yet he himself earlier stated that Shell's large scale oil pollution and performance in Ogoniland was 'unacceptable'. These figures are not even consistent with some Shell official reports which admit that 45% of all leakages from Shell facilities between 1998 and 2007 were due to poor maintenance of oil installations," Ritsema said.

In May 2008 four Nigerian citizens and Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Nigeria filed a unique lawsuit against Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. The Nigerians, fishermen and farmers, suffered major damage from oil spills because of oil production by Shell. The first lawsuit hearing is expected take place in The Hague, The Netherlands, later in 2010.

Among the media reports referred to by the FoEI is that by the UK Guardian newspaper. It reported on August 22 that a three-year investigation by the UNEP will almost entirely exonerate Royal Dutch Shell for 40 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta, causing outrage among communities who have long campaigned to force the multinational to clean up its spills and pay compensation.

The Guardian added: The 10 million U.S. dollar study by the UN Environment Programme, paid for by Shell, will say that only 10 percent of oil pollution in Ogoniland has been caused by equipment failures and company negligence, and concludes that the rest has come from local people illegally stealing oil and sabotaging company pipelines.

The backdrop to media reports was what the UNEP had stated. After releasing some information about its ongoing investigation, which is due to be released in early 2011, the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme acknowledged that its investigation relies heavily on data supplied by the oil industry and in an August 23 statement announced that no draft report currently exists.

UNEP informed that at the request of the government of Nigeria, it was conducting an environmental assessment of the impacts of oil spills in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta, and options for remediation. UNEP's decision to respond to that request by a member state recognized "the human and environmental tragedy associated with oil contamination in Ogoniland and the fact this needs to be addressed", the media release said.

It went on to say: The UNEP study represents an unprecedented effort to examine the location, nature and extent and implications of oil contamination in Ogoniland. It is part of a longer term goal to clean up contaminated sites for the benefit of local communities and people living in parts of the Niger Delta and for the region's sustainable development.

The fieldwork by UNEP's scientific teams collecting samples of water, soil, sediment, air and plant and animal tissue is due to be completed in October 2010, and will be followed by laboratory analysis.

"As this process of sample collection is still under way no draft or final report currently exists. Once finalized, the report will provide a compilation of all results and present options to the government and all interested parties on the most appropriate measures to clean up the area's environment. It is due to be presented to the government of Nigeria and interested parties in early 2011," UNEP informed.

Media reports have indicated that it is UNEP's determination that 90 per cent of oil spills are linked with so-called 'bunkering' and criminal activity. "In referring to this data, UNEP clearly indicated that these figures represented official estimates of the Government of Nigeria, based in part on data supplied by the oil industry. They therefore do not represent nor reflect results of UNEP's current assessment process which is still ongoing. To link this data with UNEP's study or indeed any future attribution of responsibility is incorrect," UNEP's media release said.

UNEP asked all parties within and outside Nigeria to recognize this "fact" and to respect the multi-disciplinary team carrying out this important task. UNEP wishes to assure all concerned that the assessment will be concluded to the highest standards of independence, integrity and transparency.

Underlining its independence, UNEP said that it had over several years secured the confidence of the international community in many challenging regions of the world from the Balkans and Afghanistan to Gaza and Sudan. "The same professionalism and independence shown in these situations is being exercised in respect to UNEP's work in Nigeria."

It added: "The funding of the assessment was negotiated over a period of one and a half years to ensure the independence and integrity of the assessment. In keeping with the polluter pays principle the Government of Nigeria, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria and UNEP agreed that costs of USD 9.5 million would be borne by SPDC."