News / Africa

Shell Accused of Misreporting Oil Spills as Pipeline Thefts

FILE - Oil is seen on the creek water's surface near an illegal oil refinery in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt, in Nigeria's Delta region, Mar. 24, 2011.
FILE - Oil is seen on the creek water's surface near an illegal oil refinery in Ogoniland, outside Port Harcourt, in Nigeria's Delta region, Mar. 24, 2011.
Heather Murdock
Amnesty International says it has uncovered proof that Shell Petroleum conceals the amount of oil it spills in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. Shell maintains most of the oil it loses is due to theft, not to slipshod operations and management.
 
An oil spill near the town of Warri last May devastated local farmers, who grow cassava, pineapples and plantains. Joseph Ovih, a local farmer, wants oil companies to pay for his loss. 
 
“Up until now Shell has refused to come and settle [with] us. They deceive us and it’s misery,” said Ovih.
 
The compensation he wants is owed to him by law only if the spill was caused by some kind of failure by the oil company, such as a pipe corroding or breaking as a result of poor maintenance. If someone breaks into a pipeline to steal oil, or to sabotage production, oil companies do not have to pay damages.  
 
Amnesty International’s director of global issues, Audrey Gaughran, says oil companies routinely blame oil spills on thieves even when the company is at fault.
 
“People rarely get compensated because the vast majority of the spills are attributed to sabotage or theft of oil, and it does a lot of damage to people’s livelihoods - to their farms and their fisheries. They get no compensation at all for that,” said Gaughran.
 
Amnesty released a report Thursday pointing out that oil companies are the ones who declare what caused their losses, based on manipulated investigations that produce reports that are “deeply suspect and often untrue.” 
 
Amnesty claims it has evidence revealing that Shell Petroleum, which pumps the bulk of oil in Nigeria's Niger Delta region, underreports the size of spills and ignores evidence demonstrating that the fault lies with faulty equipment, not sabotage.
 
Oil thieves do attack pipelines in Nigeria on a regular basis, Amnesty says, but oil companies do not do enough to protect their facilities.
 
“We’ve found evidence that sometimes they don’t even take basic security measures to protect their infrastructure. But there are standards - internationally accepted standards - that Nigerian law requires oil companies adhere to,” said Gaughran.
 
There have been hundreds of spills in the Niger Delta in this year alone, Amnesty claims. Over the past 50 years, the rights group estimates the delta region has suffered the annual equivalent of the mammoth oil spill caused by the Exxon Valdez maritime disaster.
 
Responding to the report by email, Shell Petroleum rejected Amnesty’s accusations and declared it is not Shell but criminals who cause oil pollution. At the beginning of this year, Shell says, thieves were diverting 100,000 barrels of oil every day, costing the Nigerian government of billions of dollars in lost revenue. 
 
Godwin Boluku runs a local organization in Warri that tries to assess and clean up oil spills. He says oil spills cause hunger for many of the roughly 30 million people who live in the Niger Delta, especially those who rely on farming or fishing.
 
“If the water body or the land refused to produce as expected, I think it affects our getting what we want in terms of food for sustenance,” said Boluku.
 
Boluku blames government regulators for the disaster and says they should force oil companies to comply with the law. However, Amnesty says regulators are ill-equipped, ill-trained and ill-funded. 
 
Amnesty notes that Shell Petroleum is not the only oil company polluting the Niger Delta. Last year, Agip Oil, a subsidiary of the Italian company ENI, reported 474 spills. Shell reported 207. 
 
Amnesty says Agip also blames oil theft for the spills but offers no proof. The rights group says the sheer number of incidents is “indefensible for a responsible operator.”
 
Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs