Jul 02, 2013

Ogoni: Amnesty International Calls For Investigation Of Pipeline Fire

Amnesty International and the Nigerian National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills called for an independent inquiry into the remote cause of recent fire at a section of a Shell pipeline at Bodo West in Ogoni land of Rivers State.

Below is an article published by This Day Live:

Amnesty International and the Nigerian National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills (NACGOND) last week called for an independent inquiry into the remote cause of recent fire at a section of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria’s (SPDC’s) pipeline at Bodo West in Ogoni land of Rivers State.

Eight people working for companies contracted by the SPDC were arrested by the Military Joint Task Force (JTF) in connection with the fire, which Shell blamed on damage caused by oil thieves. The fire incident had prompted the oil giant to shut the Trans Niger pipeline (TNP), resulting in deferment of 150,000 barrels of oil per day.

The TNP is one of Shell’s two major pipelines in the Eastern Niger Delta that transport crude oil from Shell flow stations and other third party’s facilities to Bonny export terminal for shipments.

Shell’s Corporate Media Relations Manager, Mr. Tony Okonedo, was quoted to have said the 24-inch TNP was shut as a precautionary response to the fire. He also stated that a team, comprising regulators, Ministry of Environment officials, community members, SPDC officials and independent observers was billed to visit the site last Tuesday to commence investigation into the cause of the fire.

But the two organisations in a statement yesterday posited  the fire at Bodo, an area already devastated by years of oil pollution “raises serious questions about the way the oil giant is operating”.

They also noted that whereas Shell claimed the fire was a consequence of oil theft, the Bodo community members told NACGOND that “in the days leading up to the fire Nigerian security forces prevented anyone other than Shell’s contractors going near the area of the spill”.

Amnesty observed in the statement: “From the shore people saw barges being loaded with oil and taken away from the site”. The two organisations said an independent inquiry into the matter will unravel the actual cause of the fire, since the oil company and the community are giving conflicting reports on the issue.

Director of Global Issues at Amnesty, Audrey Gaughran, said in the statement: “Shell appears more concerned with conducting a PR operation than a clean-up operation. It should focus less on its reputation and start addressing the damage caused to the lives of the people of Bodo.”

Shell had stated last week that it was aware of the arrests and would “cooperate with the investigations”, scheduled to begin last Tuesday.

But commenting on the investigation, Tracy Adole of NACGOND argued that Shell’s investigation into the cause of the fire was not enough. He added that what was needed was “a fully transparent and independent inquiry into what happened at Bodo in the days before the fire and the role – and competence – of Shell’s contractors. There are serious unanswered questions as to who Shell entrusted with the high-risk repair of the pipeline, and about its own level of oversight.”

“The fire broke out following an oil spill on June 11 in an area where Shell contractors were working on maintenance and repairs. The area was guarded by security forces apparently preventing unauthorised access. Local residents attempted to visit the site to assess the scale of the spill but were turned back. Witnesses reported seeing oil being loaded onto barges by Shell’s contractors for several days after the spill”.

“The facts make it difficult to believe that anyone other than Shell’s contractors were in the vicinity in the days leading up to the fire. Shell was quick to blame oil theft as the cause of the latest pollution and fire at Bodo, but the company has yet to fully answer for the role of its own contractors”, Adole said.

Last week, NCP, a Dutch company watchdog, found Shell’s statements that sabotage was responsible for most oil spilt in Nigeria were based on disputed evidence and flawed investigations.
In 2011,  a major scientific study carried out by the UN Environmental Programme documented serious problems with Shell’s response to oil spills. The same study noted that Nigerian regulators were “at the mercy” of oil companies when it comes to site visits to investigate oil spills.

Amnesty International said it asked Shell for a response to the latest spill and fire at Bodo and the arrest of contractors in relation to oil theft, but Shell directed it (Amnesty) to its public statement.