Two major oil prospecting and production companies, Shell and Eni, have been accused of serious negligence in the handling of oil spills in Nigeria.
London-based human rights group, Amnesty International which levelled the accusation at the weekend, described the oil majors’ action as “serious negligence,” saying they were “taking weeks to respond to reports of spills and publishing misleading information about the cause and severity of spills, which may result in communities not receiving compensation.”
It said the evidence of the negligence was exposed by a research project, adding that the oil giants’ “irresponsible approach to oil spills in the Niger Delta is exacerbating an environmental crisis.”
“Shell and Eni claim they are doing everything they can to prevent oil spills but Decoders’ research suggests otherwise. They found that the companies often ignore reports of oil spills for months on end; on one occasion, Eni took more than a year to respond,” the Business and Human Rights Researcher, Amnesty International, Mark Dummett, stated.
Amnesty International asked the Nigerian government to re-open investigations into 89 oil spills.
However, a spokesperson for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said, “The allegations levelled by Amnesty International are false, without merit and fail to recognise the complex environment in which the company operates where security, a sole prerogative of the government, remains a major concern with persisting incidents of criminality, kidnapping, vandalism, and threats from self-described militant groups.
“As operator of a joint venture, where the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has a majority interest, SPDC continues to work with federal and state government agencies, communities and civil society to create a safe operating environment.”
According to the spokesperson, SPDC, in collaboration with government regulators, responds to spill incidents as quickly as it can and cleans up spills from its facilities regardless of the cause.
“We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident. However, response to spills, clean-up and remediation depend on access to the spill site and ultimately on the security of personnel and equipment while work is ongoing,” he added.
An Eni spokeswoman was quoted by Reuters as saying that the rights group’s statements “are not correct and, in some cases, not acceptable,” adding it had provided a detailed response to Amnesty’s allegations.
Shell and Eni have for decades been two of the most active oil majors operating in the Niger Delta region.
Nigeria’s crude-producing heartland is an ecological disaster zone, scarred by decades of spills that have tainted the water and killed swathes of trees and other plants.
Yet, clean-ups and the associated compensation are highly contentious, with some local communities even blocking teams’ access to spill sites, allowing the damage to worsen, in the hope of extracting a bigger pay-out.
Under Nigerian law, companies must visit sites within 24 hours of reporting a spill. Amnesty said that in one case, Italy’s Eni took more than a year to respond to a spill in Bayelsa State.
While oil companies frequently attribute spills to sabotage and theft, locals say they are often due to other issues such as corrosion.
Shell has reported 1,010 spills since 2011, and Eni 820 since 2014, according to Amnesty, which said among those 1,830 reports it found 89 “about which there are reasonable doubts surrounding the causes provided by the oil companies.”
In 2015, the Bodo community and a British law firm negotiated a £55 million pollution settlement with Shell.