Shell accused of concealing damage to health from Nigerian oil spills

24 March 2017

Today, Friends of the Earth Europe and Friends of the Earth Netherlands condemned the latest revelation of failures by Shell to protect the people of Nigeria from oil pollution and called for full implementation of the UNEP report.

Mr Kay Holtzmann, a leading oil spill expert, previously employed by Shell Nigeria, has alleged in a letter to Shell, the Dutch government and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme that Shell is trying to conceal data on the potential health effects of its' oil spills on the Bodo community in the Niger Delta.

The data, according to Mr Holtzmann show 'astonishingly high' levels of pollution with swamps 'soaked with hydrocarbons'. Mr Holtzmann suggests the need for a "medical mass screening of the Bodo people" following their exposure to the dangerous pollution arising from the oil spill. But Shell has not published the data. Mr Holtzmann stated that he has requested Shell to publish the data.

Paul de Clerck, coordinator of the Economic Justice Campaign at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "This shows once again, that the oil firms operating in Nigeria cannot be trusted. Once again they are playing with the health and well-being of the people of the Niger Delta by seeking to conceal the true extent of the damage caused by their activities."

Shell has a long history of pollution and damage to the environment and human rights in Nigeria. In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme's Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland found ongoing pollution across Ogoniland, including at Bodo. It found hydrocarbon contamination in water in some sites to be 1,000 times higher than permitted under Nigerian drinking water standards and recommended a comprehensive clean-up of Ogoniland estimating that it would take 20-30 years. However, six years after the UNEP report clean-up of Ogoniland, or Bodo has still to begin.

Godwin Ojo, Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria said: "Shell is noted for corporate impunity from their operations in the Niger Delta. It is doubtful if Shell intends a successful clean-up. The company currently has membership of the oversight governing Council for the clean-up of Ogoni, but is likely to compromise this process."

In 2008 two oil spills from Shell's pipelines devastated the environment surrounding the community of Bodo, Nigeria. Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), along with four Nigerian farmers, brought a lawsuit against Shell, due to oil pollution in three Nigerian villages: Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo. This is the first time that a Dutch company has been brought before a Dutch court to account for environmental damage caused abroad.

In 2011 Shell admitted liability for the spills but initially only offered the Community £4,000 in compensation. The compensation claims on behalf of the community were eventually settled at £55 million in 2015. The clean-up of the 2008 oil spills has still not commenced.