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The Observer: Revealed: How Shell's desperate thirst for oil is devastating Nigeria


Nick Mathiason

Sunday June 13, 2004


The full extent of environmental devastation to areas around Shell's Nigerian oil interests is revealed in a new series of pictures showing contaminated land, forests, lakes and communities in the immediate vicinity of Shell refineries and pipelines.


Evidence amassed by a team from Friends of the Earth (FoE) and passed to The Observer will place further pressure on the beleaguered oil giant. According to eye witnesses, significant oil spillages close to communities have not been cleaned up by Shell or the Nigerian authorities, despite promises of action.


'Substantial layers of crude oil' were found in mangrove forests but have received no attention, say campaigners. And community water pumps which were polluted by oil spillages have not been cleaned up for a year. The evidence threatens to debunk claims by Shell that it is committed to acting in a socially responsible manner.


'We saw pipes clearly corroded and spilling. They were all over the place,' said Brian Shaad, FoE's parliamentary campaigner, who returned to Britain last Friday after three weeks in Nigeria. 'Communities repeatedly say their grievances are dealt with by security forces rather than the company itself.'


The previous day a Shell report was published in which the company admitted that it has inadvertently fuelled strife, poverty and corruption through its activities in Nigeria. 'Sometimes we feed conflict by the way we award contracts, gain access to land and deal with community representatives,' the company said.


Nigeria accounts for 10 per cent of Shell's global production and has some of its most promising reserves.


Next week the company will face renewed criticism with the publication of a FoE report detailing the experiences of people living close to Shell's operations in Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa and the US.


A leaked section of the report alleges that Shell failed to act on promises made by former chairman Philip Watts, to clean up the South African Petroleum Refinery (Sapref), the largest crude oil plant in the country.


It claims Sapref, jointly owned by Shell and BP, dumps 19 tonnes of sulphur dioxide a day into the air, six times the amount emitted by modern refineries.


'Feelgood projects' such as academic scholarships and playgrounds 'divert attention from serious health and environmental impacts,' says FoE.


Shell, the report will state, ignores residents' demands for relocating faulty pipelines, which have leaked 1.3 million litres of petrol beneath their homes.


'Shell's top executives say they take environmental concerns seriously, but the reality is different lower down the company,' said Simon McRae, who wrote the upcoming FoE report.


Shell said it responds to 'legitimate issues' raised by communities, which it encourages. But 'the Niger Delta is a difficult place to operate.' Two-thirds of oil spills are due to sabotage, it claims.


In the Sapref refinery, Shell said it has spent more than $40m in three years on initiatives to halve sulphur dioxide emissions. Emissions are typical for a refinery of its configuration. It claims it is actively monitoring air quality, which is improving the situation, and that its pipeline management is being independently assessed. The firm will follow any recommendations.,6903,1237353,00.html

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