NGOs, Shell lock horns over Nigerian oil spills
Environmental groups accused Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell on Wednesday of destroying lives and the environment in the Niger Delta, and urged Dutch MPs to intervene as the company defended its record.
“When will you stop treating people in Nigeria differently than you treat people in the Netherlands? When will you stop applying double standards?” Geert Ritsema of the NGO Milieudefensie asked Shell at a parliamentary committee hearing in The Hague into oil spills in Nigeria.
“We consider that Shell is doing a good job often under difficult circumstances,” Shell Netherlands president Peter de Wit replied, insisting the company applied “global standards” to its operations around the world.
Shell provided “thousands of well-paid jobs, had brought know-how, education and technology” and has launched numerous community projects in Nigeria, he said.
“Our operations generally are conducted there without any problems.”
NGOs disagreed, accusing the company of “systematic pollution and contempt for people’s lives” during the course of its 50-year oil presence in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
The groups accused Shell of hiding information and exaggerating the percentage of oil spills caused by sabotage, which the company estimated at 70 percent over the past five years.
“We would like the government of the Netherlands to require Shell to disclose data, to disclose evidence to support the statements it makes,” said Amnesty International spokeswoman Audrey Gaughran.
She claimed that local regulators in Nigeria were “fearful” of testifying against the company she accused of human rights violations for robbing people in the Niger Delta of “the right to make a livelihood”.
Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, recorded at least 3,000 oil spills between 2006 and June last year, Environment Minister John Odey has said.
Sunny Ofehe Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, told the committee that Shell was initially welcomed to the area with open arms.
“More than 50 years after, what we see today is a revolution that has galvanised the youth to take up arms against the same oil companies that made promises to us but couldn’t deliver.
“We have seen our environment destroyed by the oil companies trying to make profit. What we have today in the Niger Delta are swamps, polluted. Our major occupation, fishing and farming, has been taken away from us,” said Ofehe.
Many people suffered from lung diseases and leukemia linked to the pollution, he claimed.
Ritsema urged MPs to use their influence to make sure that Shell uses “its considerable profits from Nigeria to maintain the pipelines in a much better state than they are now, to secure the pipelines to prevent sabotage, to stop oil flares.”
Shell’s sub-Saharan Africa executive vice-president Ian Craig admitted that flares had not been reduced sufficiently, but blamed “security issues” hampering access to the affected areas.
“Security has impacted our ability to maintain pipelines,” he added. “If you cannot secure people’s safety, they cannot do work on the pipelines.”