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Shell Disputes Amnesty Report on Nigeria

THE NEW YORK TIMES

July 2nd, 2009

By JAD MOUAWAD

As violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta escalates, Amnesty International released a new report this week condemning oil companies for wide-scale environmental damages and abuse on impoverished communities along the delta.

But Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant that created the Nigerian oil industry, has reacted testily to the new campaign by the human rights group, saying the report failed to provide a proper picture of what caused violence and degradation in the delta.

The report, “Petroleum, pollution and poverty in the Niger Delta,” highlights some well-known and undisputed complaints, particularly among villagers and local activists.

“The oil industry is responsible for widespread pollution in the Niger Delta,” said the report, which specifically targets Shell. “Oil spills, waste dumping, and gas flaring are notorious and endemic.”

“More than 60 per cent of people in the region depend on the natural environment for their livelihood,” said Audrey Gaughran, one of the authors. “Yet, pollution by the oil industry is destroying the vital resource on which they depend.”

Amnesty’s new campaign puts pressure on Shell’s new chief executive, Peter Voser, who took over on Wednesday, to make Nigeria one of his top priority.

It also comes just weeks after Shell agreed to settle a high-profile lawsuit in New York brought by relatives of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a slain activist, and other victims of the former military regime in the mid-1990s. The company, which did not admit to any guilt, called the settlement “a humanitarian gesture.”

While Shell rejected much of the report’s “unsupported allegations,” it added that it also “shares Amnesty International’s concern that the people of the Niger Delta have not benefited from the extraction of oil and gas as they should.”

“The root causes of the Niger Delta’s humanitarian issues are poverty, corruption, crime, militancy and violence,” Shell’s spokesman, Shaun Wiggins, wrote in an email message. “This report does not acknowledge these issues to any substantive degree, but concentrates on the impact of oil and gas operations in isolation — as such its value is limited.”

“The challenges inherent in conducting operations in the Niger Delta are extreme,” Shell said, pointing out that the majority of the oil spills, accounting for 85 percent of the volume in 2008, were the result of vandalism or criminal activity, and that the company was the target of acts of violence, kidnapping, and criminal activities that made its operations extremely difficult.

Many of the spills reported by Amnesty also occurred in Ogoni land, a region that has been off-limits to Shell since 1993, the company said.

Since the beginning of the year, members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a violent militant group, have declared an “all-out war” against the oil industry after the government of President Yar’ Adua began a large-scale military offensive in the region to root out militants.

Violence in the delta, which has been going on for years, has forced many companies, including Shell, to shut down some of their production.

“Undoubtedly, in many parts of the Niger Delta, community action and reaction is part of the problem of pollution,” Amnesty’s report said. “However, as long as companies continue to deny that their poor practice is a major factor in community hostility, the situation will not improve.”

NYT ARTICLE

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