Sunday 12 August 2012

Amnesty International reports on the 2012 Bodo Oil Spill.

On 21 June 2012 a leak was discovered on a Shell-owned oil pipeline in the Bodo Creek area of the Niger Delta; this was subsequently stopped on 30 June 2012. It is unclear how long the leek had been undetected. In August 2012 human rights organization Amnesty International published a report highlighting concerns about how this (and previous) leeks on Shell pipelines in the Niger Delta were investigated.

Oil leaking into Bodo Creek on 26 June 2012. Amnesty International/Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development.

Oil spill investigations in Nigeria are (in theory) carried out by a joint team comprising representatives of the regulatory agencies, the oil company involved, the local community and the security forces. If the investigation finds that the spill was the result of sabotage, then the local community is entitled to no compensation. This provides the oil companies with a powerful incentive to establish sabotage as the result of any spills in the country, and there have been numerous allegations from both local and international agencies that oil companies, particularly Shell (the largest operator in Nigeria's oil industry), have sought to use their role as part of the investigatory body (invariably the oil company will be the best funded agency involved) to influence the outcome of investigations in favor of sabotage as an explanation.

A preliminary investigation into the oil spill on 30 June concluded that the most likely explanation is sabotage, on the basis that the leak was in the 'twelve o clock position' (i.e. at the top of the pipeline), which Shell claims is associated with sabotage. This is despite the fact that the leaking pipeline had to be excavated mechanically, and there being no sign of any previous excavations at the site, and claims by the local population that the pipeline showed clear signs of corrosion. A second investigation took place on 3 July, where Osita Kenneth, an independent engineer with more than 10 years in the pipeline industry, who was appointed by the local community to represent them in the investigation, also concluded that the leak was due to corrosion. Amnesty International has subsequently shared photographs of the pipeline with AccuFacts, a US company with over 40 years experience of inspecting oil infrastructure, who also concluded that the leak was most probably caused by erosion to the pipeline. They also noted that it was not unusual for pipes to develop leaks in the 'twelve o clock position' due to corrosion.

The joint investigation team at the site of the 2012 Bodo Oil Spill. The pipeline has been excavated using a mechanical digger. Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development.

The pipeline after the leak had been stopped (by hammering a stick into the hole), showing apparent corrosion around the leak site. Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development.

Amnesty International also observed that an investigation into a leak at Bodo Creek in August 2008 concluded that only 1640 barrels of oil were spilled, despite independent estimates that 1440 to 4320 barrels of oil were leaking per day, and the leak having lasted for 72 days, for a total of between 103,000 and 311,000 barrels of oil.. Amnesty has asked Shell for an explanation of this discrepancy, but to date has received no answer.

Amnesty also report on a leak at a Shell site in Batan in Delta State in 2002. On this occasion Shell initially claimed the leak was due to sabotage two days prior to the initial investigation of the site, despite the leak being under 4 m of water. An investigation of the site representatives of the company, the Nigerian military and the regulatory bodies, which included a trained diver, then concluded that the leak was the result of equipment failure, however the explanation for the leak was subsequently changed back to sabotage without explanation.

Amnesty International maintain that it is the responsibility of Shell both to maintain their pipelines and to protect them against sabotage. The network of pipelines used by the company is extremely old, with almost all of the pipelines in use past their normal expected lifetimes, often by several decades. These pipelines often run close to homes, farms and fisheries, and many people in the Niger Delta have had both their lives and their economic prospects severely blighted by leaks.

Fishermen on the Bodo Creek in 2011. The fishery has been severely depleted by repeated oil spills. Amnesty International.

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