The top story in The Guardian today is the global outrage at a UNEP study which ‘exonerates’ Shell for oil spills in Nigeria. What started as an environmental audit of Ogoniland has become another manipulative PR strategy.
A three-year investigation by the United Nations will almost entirely exonerate Royal Dutch Shell for 40 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta, causing outrage among communities who have long campaigned to force the multinational to clean up its spills and pay compensation.
The $10m (£6.5m) investigation by the UN environment programme (UNEP), paid for by Shell, will say that only 10% of oil pollution in Ogoniland has been caused by equipment failures and company negligence, and concludes that the rest has come from local people illegally stealing oil and sabotaging company pipelines.
UNEP’s heavy focus on sabotage and theft comes as no surprise, as the study is being bankrolled by Shell and the Nigerian government. UNEP’s report is in direct conflict with local environmental groups who monitor almost daily spills caused by neglect. They claim that the majority of spills are the result of mechanical failure; in other words, worn out, leaky infrastructure (like this abandoned Shell well-head in K-Dere, Ogoniland, above right).
It is widely known that Shell under-reports its spill volumes and frequencies. UNEP’s confidence in Shell’s data is misplaced, misleading, and unfortunate, coming at a time when oil companies are under increasing pressure to address the risk of oil spills.