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UPI: Shell defends operations against Nigeria

By CARMEN J. GENTILE
UPI Energy Correspondent

LAGOS, Nigeria, (UPI) — Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria defended its operations Wednesday amid a bevy of government allegations that the company illegally transported and dumped radioactive material in the Niger Delta.

In a statement sent to United Press International Wednesday, Shell officials denied the allegations of any misbehavior on the part of Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd., known locally as SPDC, put forth by the Nigerian government earlier this week.

“We wish to state for the avoidance of doubt, SPDC has not been involved or charged in connection with any dumping of toxic waste anywhere in Nigeria as alleged,” read the statement.

On Monday, federal officials announced that the firms allegedly violated Nigeria’s Nuclear Safety and Radiation Law by transporting radioactive material from Port Harcourt in the southern state of River, home of Nigeria’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry, to a neighboring state without federal authorization. Since then, allegations of illegal dumping of the material has also surfaced.

Shell officials have denied all counts against them, though they did acknowledge that some equipment for drilling being transported through the region using radioactive material has gone missing and that the company was making a “concerted effort to trace the alleged missing tools.”

Shell is the most prominent foreign firm among four in total being investigated by the Nigerian government for its alleged misconduct concerning the radioactive material used in oil and gas exploration.

Among those being investigated in addition to high-ranking officials at Shell are employees at C and E Global Limited, Western Atlas and ED Wales. In all, 21 employees of the forms — including a handful of executives – are now under strict state surveillance.

The federal government has reportedly directed the police to keep a close eye on those officials from firms under investigation until a hearing can be scheduled. Those being monitored by authorities include Shell Managing Director in Nigeria Basil Efoise Omiyi.

An excerpt of the charges made public earlier this week states that the accused companies allegedly conspired between Sept. 9 and Oct. 9 to “carry, transport, handle, store and transfer radioactive sources to an unauthorized person.”

The charges did not specify who the “unauthorized person” was, nor was the intent of the transfer made public.

However, an official with the International Atomic Energy Agency — the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog for the United Nations — speculated that the radioactive material transported by the companies was being used for well logging, a process whereby radioactive material is lowered into an exploratory well to test for hydrocarbons.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil and a major supplier to the United States, producing some 2 million barrels a day.

Well logging is a common practice the world over and the radioactive material used is not considered dangerous in comparison to the weapons-grade nuclear material used for creating atomic weapons.

“Radioactive sources are routinely and widely used globally to differentiate oil from gas in well formations and SPDC, like other operators, has contracts with technical companies who are licensed to own and operate such tools,” said Shell on Wednesday.

The incident has, however, sparked renewed debate among some experts as to whether the foreign petroleum firms operating in Nigeria are doing so with too much autonomy and not enough federal regulation.

Yussef Tuggar, an oil and gas consultant running for a congressional seat in Nigeria’s upcoming elections next month, opined that perhaps new regulatory laws governing the use and transport of radioactive material in the delta would have to be part of future legislation.

Tuggar — a member of the same party as presidential hopeful retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari — told UPI that the “major oils [companies] have been independent for too long” and were due for a crackdown.

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28 March 2007

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