The United Nations (UN) has been urged not to reply on data supplied by oil companies when assessing the causes of oil spills.
Amnesty International expressed concern today (24 August) after comments by a senior UN official investigating oil-impacted sites in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.
A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) official is reported to have said that 90 per cent of oil spills in Ogoniland were due to sabotage and criminal activity, and just 10 per cent due to equipment failure and negligence by companies such as Shell.
Amnesty International questioned the credibility of these figures, saying they are produced by Nigerian regulatory agencies that are known to depend heavily on the oil companies themselves when it comes to spill investigations.
“Relying on these figures would be a serious misjudgement, with potentially significant ramifications for those living in the Niger Delta,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Amnesty International’s Global Thematic Issues Programme.
She added, “UNEP must be aware that the figures have been strongly challenged for years by environmental groups and communities. They are totally lacking in credibility.”
Between 1989 and 1994, Shell estimated that only 28 per cent of oil spilt in the Niger Delta was caused by sabotage. In 2007, Shell's estimate had risen to 70 per cent and the figure now given by Shell has increased to more than 90 per cent.
Amnesty International say that they have repeatedly asked Shell to produce evidence to support these figures, but the company has failed to do so.
“The people of the Niger Delta have been lied to and denied justice for decades,” said Gaughran, “The issue of oil spill causation is sensitive. If UNEP is going to comment on the cause of oil spills it should do so only on the basis of hard and credible evidence, not figures that are a source of conflict.”
In June 2009, an Amnesty International report on the impacts of oil pollution on human rights concluded that the oil spill investigation system in the Niger Delta was totally lacking in independence, and was inadequate to determine the proportion of oil spills caused by sabotage, as opposed to equipment failure. Amnesty found that in many cases oil companies have significant influence on determining the cause of a spill.
The report documented examples of cases in which Shell claimed the cause of a spill was sabotage, but the claim was subsequently questioned by other investigations or the courts.
Amnesty International has called for independent oversight of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, including disclosure of all relevant information on the causes of oil pollution.
“While sabotage and vandalism are serious problems, there is no evidence to support the figures offered by oil companies and the Nigerian government agencies,” said Gaughran.