Shell can improve impacts in Niger Delta, says report

Posted: 17 February 2010

As Shell faces a lawsuit in the Netherlands over alleged oil pollution in Nigeria, a new report published this week argues that the oil giant can and should take both prompt and longer-term action to reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of its operations in the Niger Delta.

Children, Erema, Niger Delta
Children, Erema, Niger Delta
Children, Erema, Niger Delta, © Stakeholder Democracy Network
"Niger Delta people's means of livelihood have been completely destroyed. People have been crying, begging, and there has been no response."

"The only impact of oil companies has been pollution - of the environment, of the administrative system, and of the health and security of the people."

Statements like these, from local community members, sum up the devastation of lives, livelihoods and the environment that the oil industry has brought to the Niger Delta.

The problems are documented in the new report, Shell in the Niger Delta: A Framework for Change, published by church-based investor coalition and membership organisation the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), which considers how the operations of Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), affect the human rights and living conditions of Niger Delta communities.

Based on case studies researched and written by five civil society organisations working in the Niger Delta, the report raises concerns about Shell's operations in relation to international social and environmental standards, pollution levels, communities' health and livelihoods, and the right of local people to a say in decisions that affect their lives.

Ten recommendations

ECCR acknowledges that many of the problems in the Niger Delta are the responsibility of the Nigerian government. But it argues that the report's ten concluding recommendations offer Shell and its operating subsidiary SPDC immediate confidence-building measures (quick wins) as well as longer-term ways to tackle some of the challenges they face.

"The case studies in our report identify opportunities for Shell to do things better in the Niger Delta," says ECCR Co-ordinator Miles Litvinoff, who edited the report. "After years of unresolved community tensions, Shell could reap benefits by making accountability to local people a higher priority."

Oil pollution from ruptured Shell pipeline
Oil pollution from ruptured Shell pipeline
Oil pollution from ruptured Shell pipeline. Photo © IRIN (www.irinnews.org)
Among the report's most urgent recommendations are an end to gas flaring, provision of sustainable drinking water for communities, action to replace ageing pipelines, and commencement of a major environmental audit and rehabilitation programme. Longer term, the report calls for continuous human rights training for Shell's Nigerian staff, greater respect for principles of open dialogue and community consent, independent monitoring and effective grievance mechanisms.

How will these recommendations help? To take just the first three: Gas flaring remains an overriding issue, affecting the health and well-being of the Delta's people, providing (in the words of one of the case studies) "a daily reminder to communities of Shell's apparent valuing of production above environmental and public health concerns", and as a major contributor to climate change.

Polluted water

The human right to clean water is inalienable, and the health consequences of using heavily polluted water for cooking, washing and drinking are unacceptable. Any industry whose operations impair the right to clean water has an immediate duty to remedy the situation fully.

Local communities in the Niger Delta, and international critics, argue that Shell's ageing pipeline network would have been replaced years ago had it been laid in a developed, Northern country, and that it is a key cause of the widespread oil spills and pollution that occur in the Delta. Were Shell and SPDC to address the problem fully and transparently, this would restore some confidence and trust on the part of local communities.

Senior Shell staff remuneration should be linked to progress on human rights and environmental challenges in the Delta, ECCR says.

Citing the increasingly recognised corporate duty to respect human rights by `doing no harm', the report argues that Shell has both responsibility and opportunity to improve its operational practices in Nigeria.

Download the Report here.