Shell Still Reluctant to Accept Full Responsibility Over Oil Pollution in Niger Delta

Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria has absolved itself of any wrongdoing in respect of the widely reported 2008 oil spills in Ogoni communities in the Niger-Delta.

Apparently reacting to the recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme on the pollution of Ogoniland, which indicted Shell, SPDC Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, said “oil spills in the Niger-Delta are a tragedy,” adding, also, that the company “takes them very seriously”.

He said SPDC had always accepted responsibility for paying compensation when they occur as a result of operational failure.

Sunmonu, however, blamed the media for sensationalizing reports on oil pollution and also faulted the financial claims being speculated by lawyers to the Ogoni communities as possible compensation to be coughed out by Shell.

Also, the President/Spokesman of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples, Dr. Goodluck Digbo, said Friday that the people of Ogoni have rejected the UNEP report on the environmental pollution in the area. He challenged the integrity of the report.

In the report which emerged on Thursday, UNEP painted a gloomy picture of the level of environmental degradation in Nigeria’s oil-rich region, particularly Ogoniland, saying it might require 30 years to clean up the mess.

The study also said complete restoration could entail the world’s “most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up and it is estimated to cost $1 billion.

According to him, “The two spills at issue here resulted in around 4,000 barrels of oil being spilt. It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to.”

He accused the media of closing its eyes to the fact that rampant acts of sabotage and vandalism by people involved in illegal bunkering or stealing petroleum products were responsible for most of the cases of oil spills in Nigeria.

Sunmonu’s remarks are contained in a written reaction, made available to the media, titled “An open letter on oil spills from the Managing Director of The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited,” and dated August 4, 2011.

He said SPDC had acted in its usually responsive and responsible manner even though the contentious spills in Bodo (in Ogoniland) was a relatively small scale, and nothing near the picture of seemingly massive spills now being painted.

Text of Sunmonu’s letter read: “Oil spills in the Niger-Delta are a tragedy, and The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) takes them very seriously. That is why we have always accepted responsibility for paying compensation when they occur as a result of operational failure.

“SPDC has always acknowledged that the two spills in the Bodo area (Ogoni-land) in 2008, which are the focus of extensive media reports today, were caused by such operational failure. Even when, as is true in the great majority of cases, spills are caused by illegal activity such as sabotage or theft, we are also committed to cleaning up spilt oil and restoring the surrounding land.

“It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to.

“It is unfortunate that inaccurate reporting has created the impression that SPDC in particular and oil companies in general are responsible for all oil spills in Nigeria. The two spills at issue here resulted in around 4,000 barrels of oil being spilt. It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to. Equally, speculation by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as to the level of compensation, which may be payable is misguided and massively in excess of the true position.

“Concerted effort is needed on the part of the Nigerian government (which itself owns a majority interest in the assets operated by SPDC under a joint operating agreement with the NNPC), working with oil companies and others, to end the blight of illegal refining and oil theft in the Niger Delta, both of which perpetuate poverty. This is the major cause of the environmental damage which media reports have so graphically illustrated.”

MOSOP president recalled an earlier confession by UNEP team leader Mike Cowing that the report had been informed by data and information solely supplied by Shell and the government, without actual study on the ground.

According to Diigbo in a statement, “The purported UNEP meeting with 23,000 Ogonis is only on paper. There is no evidence to prove who attended, what review was done, agreements reached, if any and Ogonis who signed such agreements as proof of public participation as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Study, EIAS due process”.

He said: “UNEP report is a high profile media game. It began a day earlier with a news flash of Shell admitting responsibility for oil spillage in Bodo, Ogoniland. Then a report appeared, exactly in line with several other failed promises by Shell, stating one billion dollars to be spent for oil damages of 55 years, accompanied by an air view of a wealthy looking city at seaside that has nothing to do with Ogoniland.

“This is absolutely a regrettable act of disinformation and cover-up. Who determined that restoration of Ogoniland would last for 30 years? What is the extent or estimate of overall damage? Everything is dictated to us, the Ogoni people who have lost our means of livelihood, subjected economic burden and poverty. In Nov. 2010 the Ogoni worried that UNEP report was secretly being done and they immediately protested.

“In arriving at this position, MOSOP takes into account continued effort by Shell to deceive and silence the Ogoni people as with the hanging of the Ogoni Nine, the corruption with which Shell cooperating with the government has treated environmental violation with impunity in Ogoniland, and the insensitivity of the Nigerian Government in handling specific Ogoni demands. The unilateral report may sound wonderfully pleasant because of the rich scientific literature, but MOSOP has records of conflicting statements by UNEP team leader Mike Cowing that contradict the genuineness of the report. This further reminds MOSOP of the previously publicized report of attempts by UNEP team under Mike Cowing to bribe Ogonis to sign on to an already written report even without a single visit to Ogoniland”.