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

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs