Employees of the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell appear to be involved in causing oil spills in Niger Delta, Nigeria in a bid to rake in cash for cleaning up.
An investigation set to air on Dutch television found according to multiple witnesses “that SPDC, a subsidiary of Shell, caused the oil leaks” in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
“According to sources, Shell employees profit from these intentional oil leaks by pocketing money from clean up budgets,” said the group behind the investigation.
Since Shell started its oil operation in Nigeria in the 1950s, it has been dogged by oil spills that have polluted the land and rivers damaging the rich biodiversity of the region.
According to Amnesty International, the Niger Delta has become one of the most polluted areas on earth due to the oil spills.
Shell and Eni, two of the biggest corporations working there, have long sought to pin the blame for oil spills on sabotage and theft by disgruntled locals.
The oil companies claimed that they are doing all they can to clean up the spills.
Amnesty International, however, has argued that those claims are “unreliable.”
The latest investigation by campaigners in the Netherlands seems to vindicate that.
Among other things, the documentary, set to be aired on Thursday, found that “Shell employees persuade local young people to destroy pipelines. And when there is a need to clean, the same young people are hired.”
Secret agreements between Shell supervisors and young locals were made, and the money was being split between the two sides.
Shell and its subsidiary have denied any knowledge about what their employees were doing. However, according to locals, they had been complaining for years about the corrupt practices.
The Dutch Embassy in Nigeria knew about the problem but failed to report it. The Dutch ambassador at the time, Robert Petri, visited the affected areas and was told about the problems from local residents. He promised that he would pass their concerns to Shell and the Dutch government – it never happened, according to reports.
An Amnesty International report earlier this year said “The continued and systematic failure of oil companies and the government to clean up have left hundreds of thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water, and unable to earn a living.”
Britain’s Supreme Court is currently in the process of hearing claims by Nigerian farmers and fishermen seeking to pursue claims against Royal Dutch Shell over spills in the Niger Delta.
The ruling is expected to be announced in 2021 and it could set a precedent of holding companies accountable for actions they committed abroad. In the past, Shell has been accused of ignoring warnings that its infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose.
While the oil spills mentioned in the documentary are being orchestrated by Shell employees, previously, other spills have been due to company negligence.
In 2008, up to 500,000 barrels of crude oil spilled in Southern Nigeria polluting the regional freshwater and harming the livelihood of inhabitants. According to internal documents, Shell knew that the pipeline had reached the end of its operational life but had failed to carry out the necessary maintenance.
Shell has been mired in controversies about its oil activities in Nigeria. For the multinational oil company, the country provides some of the most cost-effective oil in the world, meaning large margins for shareholders.
The true cost of its operation in the region, however, could well run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Shell has been often accused by rights groups of consistently failing to clean up after consecutive oil spills that occur because of its failures, actions that would likely make it criminally liable in the Netherlands or Britain.
According to the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil at almost 2 million barrels per day.
The oil and gas sector accounts for 10 percent of the county’s total economy, also known as Gross Domestic Product, with petroleum exports accounting for 86 percent of the country’s total export revenue.