Amnesty accuses Shell of wrongly reporting cause of oil spills in Nigeria

Agency says oil spills caused by poor maintenance and equipment failure

The Nigerian military have intensified security in the oil rich Niger Delta to stop vandalisation of oil pipelines by militants. Photograph: AFP

The Nigerian military have intensified security in the oil rich Niger Delta to stop vandalisation of oil pipelines by militants. Photograph: AFP

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 01:00

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has denied claims made in a new report released today that the multinational company has manipulated oil spill investigations in Nigeria to exaggerate the theft and sabotage of crude oil.

Shell’s defence of its reporting process for oil spills was issued after Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accused the company of wrongly reporting the cause of oil spills, the volumes spilled and the extent and adequacy of clean-up measures.


Hundreds of spills
Released today, Bad Information: Oil Spill Investigations in the Niger Delta maintains that many of the hundreds of oil spills in Nigeria each year are in fact caused by corrosion, poor maintenance of oil infrastructure and equipment failure. “For the last decade oil companies in Nigeria – in particular Shell – have defended the scale of pollution by claiming that the vast majority of oil spills are caused by sabotage and theft of oil.

“There is no legitimate basis for this claim. It relies on the outcome of an oil spill investigation process in which the companies themselves are the primary investigators,” the report’s authors say.

However, a spokesman for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd firmly rejected “the unsubstantiated assertions” that the company has exaggerated the impact of crude oil theft and sabotage to distract attention from their own operational performance.

“We seek to bring greater transparency and independent oversight to the issue of oil spills, and will continue to find ways to enhance this,” he said.

“These efforts include publishing spill data online since January 2011 and working with Bureau Veritas, an independent third party, to find ways to improve the immediate response to a spill.”


Oil theft
The spokesman went on to say that oil theft in Nigeria was a serious problem, and that a recent Chatham House report highlighted that an average of 100,000 barrels of oil were stolen each day in the first quarter of 2013.

As part of Amnesty’s investigation, independent US oil pipeline specialist Accufacts was hired to assess a number of oil spill investigation reports, as well as responses from oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s national oil spill agency.

Overall, Accufacts concluded that many official investigation reports were “technically incomplete”, and others “appear to be serving another agenda, more driven by politics . . . than pipeline forensic science”.