Royal Dutch Shell PLC has admitted liability for two oil spills in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta, following a class action suit brought on behalf of local communities by London law firm Leigh Day and Co.
Shell in turn responded by funding the report commissioned by the Nigerian government to assess the long-term environmental impact of oil production on the region.
The landmark report carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), shows that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed.
According to the UNEP’s News Centre, “The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.”
The report indicates that public health is seriously threatened in at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, some at levels 900 times the World Health Organization guidelines.
Amnesty International Global Issues Director, Audrey Gaughran, who has researched the human rights impact of pollution in the Niger Delta, responded: “This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards.”
An open letter from Mutiu Sunmonu, the Managing Director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), has said, “Oil spills in the Niger Delta are a tragedy, and SPDC takes them very seriously. That is why we have always accepted responsibility for paying compensation when they occur as a result of operational failure.
“SPDC has always acknowledged that the two spills in the Bodo area in 2008, which are the focus of extensive media reports today, were caused by such operational failure. Even when, as is true in the great majority of cases, spills are caused by illegal activity such as sabotage or theft, we are also committed to cleaning up spilt oil and restoring the surrounding land.”
Shell faces near $1 billion in reparations after accepting full liability for the two massive oil spills in 2008. The spills affected nearly 70,000 people and may take around 30 years to completely clean up.
Experts who have assessed the extent and impact of the Nigeria Oil Spill report that despite Shell’s modest claims that less than 40,000 gallons were spilt in Nigeria, the situation in the Niger Delta region approaches the severity of that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, in which 10 million gallons of oil destroyed the coastline.
More than 13 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Niger delta, according to Amnesty International. That is twice as much as by BP’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
In regards to the two spills in the Bodo area in 2008, Sunmonu said, “It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to.”