Royal Dutch Shell falsely claimed years ago that it had cleaned up four major spills in the Niger Delta, when in fact each of those sites remains severely contaminated with oil pollution that is visible to the naked eye, human rights groups revealed Tuesday.
Amnesty International and the Nigeria-based Center for Environment, Human Rights, and Development report that the ongoing contamination is the result of a cover-up by Shell—the biggest international oil company operating in Nigeria, running over 50 oil fields and 3,000 miles of pipelines, many of them leaking.
But the report also criticizes the Nigerian government for failing to adequately regulate a company that has already admitted to nearly 2,000 oil spills over the last eight years, in what is likely a dramatic under-count.
"By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades," said Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher for Amnesty International.
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in 2011 castigated the company for its extensive oil pollution in the Ogoniland region, including contamination of farmland and drinking water, posing a threat to human health. The report followed decades of organizing led by the Indigenous Ogoni people and other ethnic minorities in the Niger Delta. Shell pledged in 2011 to clean up the sites, and since then, has publicly claimed to have addressed the pollution.
But field researchers uncovered a different story.
Nearly half a century after a Shell spill and fire ravaged a Boobanabe well, researchers saw "water-logged areas with an oily sheen, and soil was black and encrusted with oil," the report states. Yet Shell claimed in 1975 and 2012 that it had cleaned up the location.
Similarly, "soil soaked with crude oil" was still visible at the Bomu Manifold site, where a large Shell oil spill occurred in 2009. Shell claimed to have cleaned up the area in 2012.
Yet, false reporting can also be attributed to government regulators, who claimed that two other sites—the Barabeedom swamp and Okuluebu—were cleaned even though they were still visibly contaminated with oil.
“Our creeks are no more. Fishing activity is no more productive," said Emadee Roberts Kpai, who is now over 80 years old and worked as a farmer and fisher until Shell's spill at Bomu Manifold in 2009. "The farm I should be farming has already been devastated by oil spills from Shell. Our crops are no longer productive. No fish in the water. We plant the crops, they grow but the harvest is poor."
"When Shell came to our community, they promised that if they find oil they’ll transform our community, and everybody will be happy," Kpai told researchers. "Instead we got nothing from it."
Shell sought to deflect responsibility for the spills, telling Amnesty International that a majority of pollution is caused by theft from the pipelines. However, Amnesty notes that, even if this were true, Nigerian law requires companies to clean up spills from their infrastructure, regardless of the cause.
The joint report is not the first time Shell's lies have been exposed. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has repeatedly sounded the alarm over ongoing contamination.
The group's president Legborsi Saro Pyagbara declared earlier this year: "Although the Federal Government of Nigeria has promised resolving the environmental challenges of the Ogoni people through genuine and comprehensive implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland, to enliven efforts at enhancing our survival, it must match the promise with action for us to take the administration seriously."
The report's release coincides with the 20th anniversary of the execution of the "Ogoni 9," a group of activists who were hanged following a military tribunal in which they were denied due process. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer, activist, and leader of MOSOP was among those killed. For years, Shell colluded with the Nigerian military and police to suppress Ogoni protests against the company's environmental destruction.
Earlier this year, Shell agreed to an $87 million settlement with residents of the Bodo fishing village in Ogoniland, which suffered two massive spills more than six years ago. The payment, however, was criticized by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation as "inadequate for the severity of damage done."