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Shell Hoax Puts Spotlight on Big Oil’s Mess in Nigeria

George Osodi, File / AP
People evacuate their homes by boat, as they pass smoke and flames billowing from a burning oil pipeline belonging to the Shell Petroleum Development Company, across the Opobo Channel in Asagba Okwan Asarama, about 31 miles southwest of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 2005.

(May 19) — If it seemed too good to be true when Shell Oil proclaimed this week that it was putting an end to its offshore drilling operations in Nigeria, that’s because it was.

Monday’s announcement turns out to have been an elaborate hoax, put on by an ad hoc activist group calling itself the Nigerian Justice League.

Established solely for the sake of this con, the group put out a lengthy press release including details of the faux “Comprehensive Shell Remediation Plan for the Niger Delta,” along with phone numbers supposedly for the company’s media relations department — all under the oil giant’s iconic red-and-yellow logo.

The text of the release can be found on the group’s fake Shell website.

Shell is the largest oil producer in Nigeria, a country that holds one of the worst oil safety records on the planet. According to reports, last year alone the West African nation had 2,000 active spills.

“Shell, Chevron and the others are perpetrating a massive, life-threatening hoax by claiming that they can’t quickly stop their gas flaring, reduce their oil spills and clean up their mess in the Niger Delta,” said Chris Francis, one of the Nigerian Justice League’s organizers. “Our press release revealed the truth: that there is a decent way forward, instead of the continual deceit we get from them.”

The “plan” outlined in the press release had Shell offering up a multibillion-dollar fund to clean the Niger Delta and compensate its inhabitants for loss of livelihood. It further said the company would gradually reduce its oil production in Nigeria to 10 percent of its current output.

A spokesman for Shell, which held its annual meeting Tuesday in the Hague, wouldn’t comment on the press release except to say that “it is a hoax.”

Meanwhile, at least one publication got that news too late.

“Hands up, we were duped on this one,” the Financial Times says in a blog posting.

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