A whistleblower recently accused Shell of covering up data on the detrimental health effects of two major oil spills that occurred in 2008 and 2009 in Nigeria. Kay Holtzmann, former director of Shell’s project to clean up oil spills in the Niger Delta’s oil-producing Bodo community, wrote a letter detailing the results of the environmental analysis that he and his team uncovered. According to Holtzman’s letter, anyone who walks in the Bodo creeks “cannot avoid contact with toxic substances. Although the locals are accustomed to their environment they are exposed to hazards and especially negative long term effects on their health are unpredictable.” The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has declared that it would take thirty years to clean up the oil spills. Holtzman also noted that the environmental investigation was heavily opposed by the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), Shell’s auxiliary company in Nigeria.
Shell has accepted responsibility for the two oil spills, and paid the Bodo community £55 million to recover. However, law firm Leigh Day representing the Bodo community has stated that “from 2008 to 2017, there has been no clean-up, no health testing, no water supply testing, nothing.” Further, Shell has been accused of withholding data of the dangers of the oil spills from the public.
Numerous clean up efforts have been made in Nigeria, including a one-billion-dollar cleanup, launched last year. Yet according to Amnesty International campaigner Joe Westby, “[The people of the Bodo community] have a right to be sceptical, they have seen cleanups promised and people paid to do the work in the past, only for little improvements to be delivered…the rhetoric must translate into action.”
Nigeria is a hub of oil production, the business is worth billions of dollars, and oil theft runs rampant. The crime ranks second to the drugs trade in the amount of money it earns. Shell reports that it is losing 30,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil a day. The illegal oil production and theft contributes to pollution because of the unawareness of proper waste residue removal. However, community leaders blame large-scale oil companies for the pollution. According to Boma Ipiurima Asitonka, a Bolo teacher, “people knew what was happening to the environment, but what is the alternative for the young men? The illegal refineries were set up as a direct result of the wickedness of Shell and the oil companies who polluted the waterways and never compensated us.” The chiefs state that giving the people a stake in the oil will alleviate the issue of oil theft and unintended pollution.