A new report released by Amnesty International finds that major oil companies are the true culprits behind oil spills in the Niger Delta. Though the spills have been well recorded and are largely common knowledge, the companies have often blamed theft and sabotage as their cause. The report states, however, that there is “no legitimate basis for this claim.” Rather, it finds corroded pipes and mechanical failure are more likely causes of these spills.
Oil spills in Nigeria have been occurring at a staggeringly high rate in recent years. In one area alone, Amnesty identified 474 separate spills in 2012. These spills often come at a high cost to the basic human rights of those who live in the affected communities. Because of a clause in Nigerian law, if the spill is attributed to sabotage or theft, the oil company is not required to provide compensation.
This means in addition to the devastation to the environment, farmers and fishers can lose their livelihoods without any hope of recompense from the companies responsible for it. While Amnesty acknowledges that the theft of crude oil is indeed a serious issue, they maintain that even in cases of sabotage the company should still be held responsible for the spill if they did not take appropriate measures to prevent the tampering.
The report–aptly titled “Bad Information”–contends that large oil companies have been “overstating the case (of theft and sabotage) in an effort to deflect attention away from the many oil spills that are due to corrosion and equipment failure.” While the report investigates many different perpetrators of oil spills, it focuses largely on the actions of Shell Oil Company.
In response to these claims, Shell sent a statement to CNN lambasting Amnesty’s findings, saying, “The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd…firmly rejects unsubstantiated assertions that they have exaggerated the impact of crude oil theft and sabotage.”
Amnesty’s report also calls into question the means by which oil spills are investigated. Common procedure includes the use of a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV.) The biggest flaw in the process, they assert, is that these investigations are conducted by the companies themselves, meaning there is an inherent lack of transparency throughout the process. Furthermore, the investigations are often carried out days, or even weeks, after the spill, which is in direct violation of Nigerian law.
While they concede there has been significant improvement in the process since its overhaul in 2011, Amnesty contends the reports generated by the JIV contain very little factual evidence to validate their claims of theft and they are “more driven by politics and related pressures than pipeline forensic science.”
Ultimately, “Bad Information” calls for oil companies–particularly Shell–to take more responsibility for its spills. They must be held financially accountable, even when theft is a possible cause, and the investigation process needs to be more transparent and objective.
– Rebecca Beyer