The global oil giant, Shell, is concealing data showing thousands of Nigerians are exposed to health hazards from a stalled clean-up of the worst oil spills in the nation’s history, a German Geologist contracted by the multinational has said.
In a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative, BMI, Kay Holtzmann, a geologist hired by the Dutch-British multinational, disclosed that an environmental study found “astonishingly high” pollution levels with soil “literally soaked with hydrocarbons” in the Bodo community.
Mr. Holtzmann also disclosed that Shell “fiercely opposed” environmental testing.
The people of Bodo in the oil-producing Niger Delta region should get urgent medical tests, the Geologist wrote in the letter dated January 26, obtained by The Associated Press, AP.
Bodo is part of Ogoniland, where the failure to clean up oil spills was called an environmental scandal in 2011 by the U.N. Environment Program.
The clean-up was part of a British out-of-bounds settlement in which Shell paid $83.5 million to 15,600 fishermen and farmers for damages from two oil spills caused by old pipelines in 2008 and 2009 that devastated thousands of hectares of mangroves and creeks.
Lawyers alleged 500,000 barrels of oil spilled, but Shell said it was only 1,640 barrels and initially offered the community $50,000 in compensation.
The agreement was reached through British law firm, Leigh Day, which said on Friday it has received no response to a January 30 letter to Shell asking for the data from Mr. Holtzmann, who was hired by Shell to manage the clean-up.
“Leigh Day has been pushing for the cleanup of Bodo, health screening of the population and testing of the water supply since 2011 – all to no avail,” the firm said.
“This letter shows that even those who were employed by Shell are deeply concerned by their behaviour and their lack of transparency.”
Mr. Holtzmann’s letter warns that children bathing in creeks are in danger of harm from toxic substances, as are people who drink from hand-dug wells.
Amnesty International had said the multinational was “deeply irresponsible.”
“Shell has a responsibility to share this information with the community to ensure they can take steps to protect themselves and their children,” a statement from the rights group said.
Clean-up efforts overseen by the Dutch government began in June 2015 but were halted within months by community disputes and problems with contractors.
Mr. Holtzmann’s letter urges Bodo Mediation Initiative, BMI, co-chair, Inemo Samiama, to publish the data, noting that the initiative’s committee had insisted on the tests “against fierce opposition from Shell Petroleum Development Co., SPDC.”
The environmental tests were carried out in August 2015 with support from Shell’s headquarters in The Hague, the letter said.
Mr. Holtzmann said his intent to publish the findings in a scientific magazine last year was quashed by Shell, which said his contract did not permit publication.
A Shell spokesperson on Sunday declined comments on Mr. Holtzman’s revelations.
But a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, which was signed by Mr. Samiama said Mr. Holtzmann’s six months contract was not extended because the geologist performed “poorly”.
“In view of Mr Kay Holtzman’s poor performance, the BMI technical team recommended that a more competent project director should be sourced for,” the BMI chair said in the statement.
Commenting further, Mr. Samiama said the Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Technique, SCAT, results confirmed areas of pollution and the need for clean-up, but the results did not raise new concerns because they were not different from existing observations from earlier reports.
He also noted that at a meeting with members of the Bodo Community, the BMI chair had suggested that the only way to mitigate against continued exposure to the negative consequences of the polluted environment was to immediately commence the clean- up and remediation exercise.
“The SCAT results were worrisome but not surprising,” Mr. Samiama said.
“They confirmed that the degree of oil contamination in the Bodo Creek was high. This, however, did not warrant immediate emergency measures – the extent of the pollution was known, people were already aware they had to stay out of polluted areas – but rather emphasized the need for clean-up,” he added.
The BMI chair also alleged that the clean-up process was shut down by Bodo community members two weeks after the report was released, because they wanted to receive money rather than have their community cleaned-up.
“The SCAT report was shared with relevant BMI stakeholders and its contents were used to inform the Boko community,” he said.
Earlier in a telephone interview with AP, Mr. Samiama had said that residents’ health will be better served by getting on with the clean-up.
After a challenging four-year process, “we are on the verge of getting contractors back to the site,” he said.
The Bodo community, according to reports, recorded contamination levels so high it could take 30 years to renew the land.