Shell To Be Cleared of Most Responsibility For Niger Delta Oil Spills

Every year for 50 years the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill occurs in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, according to a recent New York Times article. A three year UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) investigation into the spills “will almost entirely exonerate Royal Dutch Shell,” the Guardian reported on August 22. The investigation puts only 10 percent of the responsibility for the oil spills on Shell, and blames the rest on theft and sabotage by local people. It needs to be noted that Shell paid for the $10 million investigation and the Nigerian government commissioned it.

Mike Cowing, head of 100 member UN team investigating environmental damage in delta, reportedly disclosed the investigation’s findings in emails the Guardian obtained. Cowing defended the investigation, saying, “UNEP is not responsible for allocating responsibility for the number of spills being found in Ogoniland. Rather, we are focusing on the science. The figures referred to are those of the ministry of the environment and the department of petroleum resources.”

Home to 606 oil fields, the Niger Delta supplies 8.2 percent of crude oil imported by the U.S. Oil production began in the Delta in the 1950s. The Delta consists of about 20,000 square miles of wetlands.

A June 2009 Amnesty International (AI) report called the situation in the Delta a “human rights tragedy.” The report titled ‘Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta’ blamed oil companies for spills, and called government regulation “wholly inadequate.”

Audrey Gaughran, a senior official,  said of the Delta last year, “A government’s failure to protect the human rights of its people does not absolve companies from responsibility for their actions.”

AI said of the leaked UN investigation results that Nigerian regulatory agencies “are known to depend heavily on the oil companies themselves when it comes to spill investigations.”

“Relying on these figures would be a serious misjudgment, with potentially significant ramifications for those living in the Niger Delta,” said Gaughran.

Environmentalists also criticized the leaked results. “It’s a dead environment,” said Patrick Naagbanton of the Nigerian non-profit, Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development.

Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends the Earth International and director of Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria’s leading environment group, said, “It is incredible that the UN says that 90 percent is caused by communities.” Bassey added, “The UNEP assessment is being paid for by Shell. Their conclusions may be tailored to satisfy their client. We monitor spills regularly and our observation is the direct opposite of what UNEP is planning to report.”

Fossil fuels need to be phased out

The third edition of Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution report points the way to prevent more oil spills: phase out fossil fuels. Released in June, the report lists five key principles that are part of the shift away from fossil fuels:

  1. Implement renewable solutions, especially through decentralized energy systems
  2. Respect the natural limits of the environment
  3. Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy sources
  4. Create greater equity in the use of resources
  5. Decouple economic growth from the consumption of fossil fuels

It will take $17.9 trillion worth of global investment until 2030 to phase out fossil fuels, according to the Greenpeace report. However, the fuel cost savings will reach $6.5 trillion by 2030.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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