Amnesty International says that it has found evidence of environmental damage at four sites where the Anglo-Dutch oil major has operated, and says that Shell’s claims to have cleaned up the sites are “blatantly false”.

Researchers found blackened, oil-encrusted soil and oily water-logged land at Boobanabe, a site which suffered a fire and oil spill almost half a century ago. Amnesty also documented more recent evidence of pollution, including oil-soaked soil at the location of a 2009 spill.

International oil firms operating in Nigeria, the continent’s largest producer, have long been accused of damaging local ecosystems and the fragile communities that rely on them. The new report, Clean It Up, has been released to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni activist hanged by Nigeria’s military government for exposing rampant environmental degradation in the Delta.

The organisation accuses Shell of failing to implement the recommendations of a critical 2011 United Nations Environment Programme report, which alleged that the company had failed to rehabilitate over 60 polluted sites in Ogoniland. Shell has not pumped oil from Ogoniland wells since 1993, but continues to carry crude through pipelines in the area.

Amnesty says that the company needs to urgently resume clean-up operations at the four polluted sites and provide compensation for communities affected, as well as publishing remediation reports and certificates.

“Shell must heed the advice of the UN’s experts by changing its approach to oil spill remediation, and begin to clean-up properly,” the report argues.

Amnesty says that the alleged negligence of IOCs has been abetted by a dysfunctional Nigerian regulator – the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency – which has neither the expertise nor capacity to operate effectively over a wide area.

“The government must substantially strengthen the capacity of NOSDRA to regulate Shell and the activities of Shell’s contractors. The government must also ensure that the regulatory agency is properly accountable so that it can fulfil its mandate,” says the report.

Shell has disputed the recent findings and has long argued that illegal oil theft is to blame for some instances of pollution.

“We disagree with the assertions made with regard to implementation of the actions of the SPDC and would like to reiterate that we have consistently and publicly reported our actions in this regard as well as highlighting ongoing challenges of crude oil theft and illegal refining,” an unnamed official wrote to Amnesty.

By David Thomas

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