Shell Geologist Says Company Hid Nigeria Spill Dangers. An environmental study found “astonishingly high” pollution levels with soil “literally soaked with hydrocarbons,” SHELL geologist Kay Holtzmann wrote in a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative. Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigeria subsidiary “fiercely opposed” environmental testing and is concealing data showing thousands of Nigerians are exposed to health hazards from a stalled cleanup of the worst oil spills in the West African nation’s history, according to a German geologist contracted by the Dutch-British multinational. The people of Bodo in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta should get urgent medical tests, Holtzmann wrote in the letter dated Jan. 26. Shell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The cleanup halted 17 months ago was part of a British out-of-court settlement in which Shell paid $83.5 million to 15,600 fishermen and farmers for damages from two oil spills caused by old pipelines in 2008 and 2009 that devastated thousands of hectares of mangroves and creeks. Lawyers alleged 500,000 barrels of oil spilled. Shell said it was only 1,640 barrels and initially offered the community $50,000 in compensation.
The agreement was reached through British law firm Leigh Day, which said Friday it has received no response to a Jan. 30 letter to Shell asking for the data from Holtzmann, who was hired by Shell to manage the cleanup.
“Leigh Day has been pushing for the cleanup of Bodo, health screening of the population and testing of the water supply since 2011 – all to no avail. This letter shows that even those who were employed by Shell are deeply concerned by their behavior and their lack of transparency.”
Holtzmann’s letter warns that children bathing in creeks are in danger of harm from toxic substances, as are people who drink from hand-dug wells.
Amnesty International called Shell:
“deeply irresponsible … Shell has a responsibility to share this information with the community to ensure they can take steps to protect themselves and their children.”
Cleanup efforts overseen by the Dutch government began in June 2015 but were halted within months by community disputes and problems with contractors.
Holtzmann’s letter urges Bodo Mediation Initiative co-chair Inemo Samiama to publish the data, noting that the initiative’s committee had insisted on the tests “against fierce opposition from SPDC.” Shell Petroleum Development Co. is the subsidiary in which Nigeria’s government is the majority shareholder. The country is one of Africa’s largest oil producers.
The environmental tests were carried out in August 2015 with support from Shell’s headquarters in The Hague, the letter said.
Holtzmann said his intent to publish the findings in a scientific magazine last year was quashed by Shell, which said his contract did not permit publication.
Samiama said in a telephone interview that residents’ health will be better served by getting on with the cleanup. After a challenging four-year process, “we are on the verge of getting contractors back to the site,” he said.
Bodo is part of Ogoniland, where the failure to clean up oil spills was called an environmental scandal in 2011 by the U.N. Environment Program. It reported contamination levels so high it could take 30 years to renew the land.
The head of a group helping organize Shell’s clean-up efforts in an oil Delta community in Nigeria said on Friday he was hopeful clean-up work after two spills in 2008 could start in April.
Shell agreed in 2015 on a 55 million pound ($68.62 million) settlement with the Bodo community after accepting liability for two pipeline leaks due to corrosion that contaminated their land. But progress to clean up the spill has been slow after Shell said members of the community had denied it access in August 2015 when work was set to begin. A community representative said they were unhappy with the contractor Shell picked.
After months of wrangling, the parties have reached agreement and clean-up work is set to start in April, said the chairman of the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI), a program started in 2013 by the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria.
BMI Chairman Inemo Samiama:
“Hopefully we should be able to go to site and start the clean-up next month. SPDC remains fully committed to ensuring clean-up takes place and will continue to work with the BMI to implement a remediation plan for Bodo area. We are hoping this time around we are going to start this clean-up once and for all and get this job done”
The BMI is mediating between Shell’s Nigeria subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and the Bodo community. It also includes representatives from the United Nations Environmental Programme, the local government, the Dutch embassy and several non-governmental organizations.
Samiama said Shell had appointed international contractors to carry out the clean-up work. Once it commences, the first step would be to remove oil from the water surfaces before restoring landscapes that were damaged by the spill, adding the entire clean-up process will take several years.