Multinational oil giant, Shell, has constantly lied about the amount and impact of the oil spilled at Bodo, Ogoniland, United Kingdom court documents obtained by Amnesty International has revealed.
The documents also revealed that contrary to Shell’s official claim that the spill was caused by oil thieves and saboteurs, the oil firm knew for years that its pipelines in the Niger Delta were old and decrepit.
In August 2008, a section of the Trans-Niger pipeline, controlled by Shell, broke, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the surrounding villages, creeks and rivers.
Shell claimed that the leak was not reported to it until October 5, 2008. The leak was not stopped until November 7, more than five weeks after it first occurred.
A month later, the pipeline broke again in December of that year. This time, Shell did not fix the leak until February 2009.
An environmental impact assessment of the two spillages stated that over 49,000 people and 35 villages were adversely affected by the spillage.
In 2012, 15,000 villagers, whose lives were devastated by the spillages sued Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.
“The spills have caused extensive and long-lasting devastation to the claimant’s lands and fishing waters and have a profoundly detrimental impact on the life of the community,” said Martyn Day, the community’s lawyer in a court affidavit.
Shell claimed only 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in both instances. However, using an independent assessment by US firm, Accufacts Inc, Amnesty International calculated the amount of oil spilt to be well beyond 100,000 barrels. Shell has consistently denied this figure and insisted that its estimate was correct.
However, the oil firm admitted in court that its figure is wrong.
Amnesty International said Shell’s admission that its assessment of Bodo spills was wrong throws doubt to the firm’s assessments of previous oil spills in the region. It said the implication of this is that Shell may have underpaid or denied thousands of people compensations following its dubious assessments.
“Amnesty International firmly believes Shell knew the Bodo data were wrong. If it did not it was scandalously negligent – we repeatedly gave them evidence showing they had dramatically underestimated the spills,” said Director for Global Issues at Amnesty International, Audrey Gaughran.
“For years, Shell has dictated the assessment of volume spilled and damage caused in spill investigation reports, now these reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. These spill investigation reports have cheated whole communities out of proper compensation,” she added.
Anmesty International added that Shell’s admission in court proves that the Joint Investigation Visits form, which Shell relies upon to assess the impact of oil spills is not credible and skews the assessment in favour of the oil giant.
The court document also cast doubts on Shell’s claim that oil spills are often caused by vandals and saboteurs. Internal memos of the oil firms based on a 2002 study stated: “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”.
Also in 2009, a Shell employee stated that “[the company] is corporately exposed as the pipelines in Ogoniland have not been maintained properly or integrity assessed for over 15 years”.
“It’s outrageous that Shell has continued to blame the vast majority of its spills on saboteurs while knowing full well how bad a state its pipelines were in,” said Ms Gaughran.
She said Shell stands completely discredited by this revelation.