Own up, clean up, Niger Delta activists challenge Shell on environmental degradation

Niger Delta environmental activists campaigning for restitution for years of environmental degradation through the exploitation of oil and gas resources by multinational oil companies have challenged Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria Limited to show concern for the people ravaged by the negative impact of it operations in the region.
A coalition of the groups said at the weekend in Port Harcourt that the oil companies, particularly Shell, has done enough havoc to their environment and it is time they own up, clean up and pay adequate compensation to the people in the oil bearing communities that have been on the receiving end of negative impact of their extractive activities.
The coalition, which staged a peaceful demonstration outside Shell’s offices in Port Harcourt, to highlight the devastating human rights and environmental impact of Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, included Amnesty International (AI); Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD); Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth); Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF); Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP); Social Action; Peoples Advancement Centre (PAC), and Ogoni Land Owners Association.
The protest was part of a joint global action by activists in more than 16 countries to register their outrage over Shell’s conduct in the Niger Delta.
In August 2011, a major report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided scientific evidence exposing Shell’s systematic failure to properly clean up oil pollution in the Ogoniland region. UNEP found that many sites which Shell had reportedly cleaned still had pollution exceeding government environmental standards and even Shell’s own standards.
“We, the undersigned organisations and residents of Nigeria’s oil affected communities, are today calling on Shell to own up, pay up, and clean up the Niger Delta,” the group said in a joint statement read on their behalf by the Head, Community Action/Resource Centres, Social Development Integrated Centre, Celestine Akpobari.
“For decades Shell has been allowed to profit from the Niger Delta’s natural wealth despite the fact that oil pollution from its operations has ravaged the environment, causing misery for the people living there.
“For years, people in the Niger Delta have been forced to live with the consequences of widespread oil pollution. The water, food and air are contaminated, people are exposed to serious health risks and their traditional way of earning a living has been destroyed.
“Those affected struggle to secure justice and adequate compensation, particularly women who are often excluded from the compensation negotiation process. Shell can no longer ignore the concerns of local communities, which are backed by hard evidence from NGOs and international bodies, including the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations (UN).
“Shell must face up to the overwhelming body of evidence demonstrating that for decades the company has failed to properly prevent or address oil pollution in the Niger Delta, leaving communities exposed to sustained violations of their economic, social and cultural rights. The company cannot continue to make excuses – affected communities need a comprehensive clean-up of pollution and proper compensation for what they have lost,” the groups said.
According to the groups, the government cannot be exonerated, as it bears significant responsibility for the impact of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, pointing that successive governments failed to enforce existing laws and regulations to prevent pollution and hold the oil industry to account, allowing Shell and other companies to freely flout them without any concern for the consequences on the environment.
The groups maintained that as the main operator in the country’s oil industry, Shell cannot afford to evade its share of the blame for environmental damage and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, adding that the company has not done enough to prevent pollution of the environment in its areas of operation.
“When oil spills occur Shell does not clean up fast enough, it does not clean up effectively enough, and sometimes it simply doesn’t clean up at all,” Mr. Akpobari said.
“When confronted with the serious problems in its Niger Delta operations, Shell (always) focused on defending its corporate image, often pointing the finger of blame at communities, and making claims that simply do not stand up to scrutiny.”
He said a recent independent assessment of an oil spill that occurred at Bodo in 2008 exposed how Shell had grossly underestimated the size of the spill, pointing out that based on the findings of the assessment, the quantity of oil spilt at Bodo was more than 60 times the volume claimed.
Though Shell often blamed incidents of oil spills illegal activities, such as oil bunkering and sabotage, the groups said the company has an obligation to both clean up oil spills and prevent further sabotage of its oil facilities.
Mr. Akpobari said the protests and demonstrations are part of a series being planned around the world as a wake-up call to Shell to rise to their social responsibilities to the people, insisting the Federal Government must act now and finally clean up the Niger Delta.
The groups issued a five-point line of action to redress the situation, including cleaning up of all oil spills to internationally accepted standards, in consultation with the community, while ensuring independent verification of such exercise, as well as apologize, and pay proper compensation to those affected by pollution and environmental damage, taking into account long-term impacts, health issues and all other reasonable damages, and take action to rehabilitate land and water systems – working with all relevant stakeholders, including local communities.
Other demands are: an overhaul of Shell’s operating practices, particularly in relation to clean up processes, oil spill investigations and compensation payments; making public all information about the impact of oil operations on the environment and human rights; conduct a full inspection of all Shell’s assets and infrastructure to ensure it is safe, and make the findings public.

They called on the government and the National Assembly to enforce environmental regulations relating to the oil industry, particularly the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to address the social, health and environmental impacts of the oil industry.

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