UN to Exonerate Shell from Pollution in Niger DeltaNigeria
A three-year probe by the United Nations will almost entirely acquit Royal Dutch Shell for 40 years of oil contamination in the Niger Delta, eliciting rage among communities who have long campaigned to force the multinational to clean up its spills and pay compensation.
The $10m investigation by the UN environment programme (UNEP), paid for by Shell, will say that only 10 per cent of oil pollution in Ogoniland has been caused by equipment failures and company negligence, and concludes that the rest has come from local people illegally stealing oil and sabotaging company pipelines, the Guardian of London reported yesterday.
The shock disclosure was made by Mike Cowing, the head of a UN team of 100 people who have been studying environmental damage in the region.
Cowing said that the 300 known oil spills in the Ogoniland region of the Delta caused massive damage, but added that 90 per cent of the spills had been caused by "bunkering" gangs trying to steal oil.
His comments, in a briefing in Geneva last week, have caused deep offence among the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogoni leaders who were hanged by the Nigerian government in 1995 after a peaceful uprising against Shell's pollution.
With 606 oil fields, the Niger Delta supplies 40 per cent of the crude oil imported by the US . Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 over the past two generations.
Communities accept that bunkering has become rife in some areas of Ogoniland, but say this is a recent development and most of the historical pollution has been caused by Shell operations.
Last year, Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil has been spilled in the Delta over the past half a century, nearly twice as much as the 5m barrels unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Last night, the investigation was accused of bias by Nigerians and environmental groups who said the study - paid for by Shell and commissioned by the Nigerian government, who both have massive oil interests in the region - was unbalanced.
Ben Ikari, an Ogoni activist, said: "Nobody from Ogoniland would be surprised, because the federal government of Nigeria and Shell are the same cabal that killed Ken Saro-Wiwa and others."
Ben Amunwa of London-based oil watchdog group Platform said: "The UNEP study relies on bogus figures from Shell and incomplete government records. Many Ogoni suspect that the report's focus on sabotage and bunkering will be used to justify military repression notorious in the Niger delta, where non-violent activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed."
Cowing defended the UN report. In a series of emails seen by the Guardian of London, he said: "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.
"This is a Nigerian issue, not a UNEP issue. However, I would add that from our extensive field work throughout Ogoniland we have witnessed, on a daily basis, very large scale bunkering operations."
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