A new report released by the human rights group Amnesty International alleges that the oil behemoth Shell has not done its part to clean up its oil spills in the Niger Delta, despite the company’s promises to do just that.
Makmid Kamara, a human rights campaigner at Amnesty International observes that, “When you visit these communities, the first thing you notice is the stench of crude oil.”
The Niger Delta is the largest oil-producing region in Africa and the cleanup of the area is well overdue.
Shell is responsible for operating about 50 oil fields and over 3,000 miles of oil pipelines in the area. According to the company, it acknowledges that it is responsible for 1,693 oil spills dating back to 2007.
Amnesty International and the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) believe that the actual number of oil spills is even higher.
In some areas, the environmental pollution has been terrible for decades and local residents have lost the use of their land. By releasing this report, Amnesty International hopes that Shell will take responsibility for cleaning up the region and restore the land to a state that can be farmed. Kamara points out, “that is all that the people ask for. They want to have their land back to farm and feed their communities and have money to send their children to school.”
The investigations at four oil spill sites showed that contamination still persists despite Shell’s claims that it cleaned the sites. The researchers said that they found many layers of oil on both soil and in the water in many locations. At one contaminated site, the oil spill occurred 45 years ago and Shell claims to have cleaned it up two times already.
Kamara states that Nigerian law is very clear. “When a spill occurs, the responsible company has to clean that spill within 24 hours.” Yet according to the report, the problem lies in implementing and enforcing that law.
The Nigerian regulatory agency responsible for overseeing such matters, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), is under-funded and has incorrectly certified that several areas are clean even though they are visibly polluted. The report also indicates that the areas which have received some clean up have only been cleaned superficially. One Shell contractor told researchers that, “This is just a cover up. If you just dig down a few [yards] you find oil.”
According to Amnesty International, Shell disagrees with the report’s findings. On Shell’s website, the company cites oil theft and sabotage as a significant cause of oil spills.
Earlier this year, Shell agreed to pay $83.5 million to local fishing communities following a legal battle lasting three years.