UNEP has found another person to blame for its troubles in Ogoniland: it’s all the media’s fault[1]. After presenting Shell’s disputed oil spill data as fact, the Port Harcourt-based team of 100 scientists denied allegations that their report will clear Shell of responsibilty for the majority of oil spills. Nick Nuttal, spokeperson for UNEP, blamed “misleading media reports” for stirring global outrage:

Media reports over the past days and weeks have indicated that it is UNEP’s determination that 90 per cent of oil spills are linked with so called ‘bunkering’ and criminal activity.

In referring to this data UNEP clearly indicated that these figures represented official estimates of the Government of Nigeria, based in part on data supplied by the oil industry.

Yet 2 weeks ago, on 10 August, the UN was telling a very different story. Here is a direct quote from the UN in Geneva[2], which blames 90% of the spills on the Ogoni people, and only 10% on Shell.

“The Gulf of Mexico situation was an operational accident. What was happening in the Niger Delta was a very different situation. This was a proliferation of oil spills through criminal activities, through the theft of oil by sabotaging the oil wells and also sabotaging the main pressurized supply lines. Only around 10 per cent of the oil spills by number and by volume actually related to equipment failure.”

This message is still available[3] on the UN website. There is no reference to Shell or government figures. There is no “clear indication” that UNEP is using  bogus oil company data. To deny this would be factually incorrect. UNEP should accept that they made a highly significant mistake in blaming the Ogoni people for the spills. Worst of all, they have failed to hold Shell accountable for causing over four decades of ecological devastation. Ogoni activists who have struggled long and hard against Shell’s environmental and human rights abuses, are deeply saddened and disappointed[4] with UNEP’s decision and its subsequent denials.

If UNEP admits its error, and holds Shell accountable for its decades of oil spills as an independent study should, then there might be some measure of faith in this otherwise flawed report.

Endnotes:
  1. the media’s fault: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/22/shell-niger-delta-un-investigation
  2. UN in Geneva: http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/(httpNewsByYear_en)/55814AFB60EBEE38C125777B002DB9B9?OpenDocument
  3. still available: http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/(httpNewsByYear_en)/55814AFB60EBEE38C125777B002DB9B9?OpenDocument
  4. saddened and disappointed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2010/aug/25/un-nigeria-oil-spill-shell