by Paul Osas
Major oil firms operating in the Niger Delta have been deflecting responsibility for oil spills in the area to avoid compensation claims says an Amnesty International report. The report accused major oil companies, including Shell, of failing to report the true picture of oil spills in Nigeria.
However, Shell has described the report as “unsubstantiated assertions” stressing that the issue of theft of crude oil “remains the main cause of oil pollution in the Delta”
According to Amnesty, a “staggering” 474 spills in 2012 occured in one area alone, operated by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company – a subsidiary of Italian firm ENI. It said there is “no legitimate basis” for the oil companies’ claims that the vast majority of spills are caused by sabotage and theft.
“Sabotage and theft of oil are serious problems in the Niger Delta,” the report noted. “However, international oil companies are overstating the case in an effort to deflect attention away from the many oil spills that are due to corrosion and equipment failure. Moreover, securing oil infrastructure against such acts is – to a substantial extent – the responsibility of the operator.”
Members of the local community together with oil company staff and government officials are supposed to investigate oil spills, but Amnesty calls this Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) process “wholly unreliable” because, it says, the companies themselves are the primary investigators and the process lacks transparency. It says the majority of the report’s findings relate to Shell as the primary operator in the Niger Delta – though it acknowledges improvements to Shell’s JIV process since 2011.
Meanwhile, Shell has firmly rejected the claims. It said the JIV process was a federal process the company could not unilaterally change. Stolen oil, Shell said, costs Nigeria billions of dollars in lost revenue.
“Co-ordinated action from the industry, government, security forces, civil society and others is needed to end this criminality, which remains the main cause of oil pollution in the Delta today,” Shell said. It added that it regretted “that some NGOs continue to take a campaigning approach rather than focusing on on-the-ground solutions that. bring societal benefits”.
“We seek to bring greater transparency and independent oversight to the issue of oil spills, and will continue to find ways to enhance this,” the company stated.