by Emily Atkin
Long before a Shell Petroleum Development Company pipeline spilled up to 21 million gallons of oil in southern Nigeria, employees warned the company that the same pipeline was at risk of leaking, according to internal documents seen by the BBC and reported Wednesday.
“There is a risk and likelihood of rupture on this pipeline at any time, which if it happens, could have serious consequences for the safety of life, the environment and the nation’s economy,” read a 2006 letter from Basil Omiyi, managing director of Shell’s Nigeria business.
A Shell spokesperson dismissed the accusation that it ignored warnings about the pipeline before the devastating spills, which severely disrupted the lives of approximately 69,000 people living in Bodo, Nigeria. “[Shell] dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate,” it told the BBC.
Shell has long been accused of trying to downplay and cover up its spills in Nigeria, most notably by maintaining that much of the damage was caused by locals sabotaging its pipeline. Shell has also blamed amateur and illegal oil refiners for some of the damage.
Still, where to place the blame does not take away from the suffering of the Niger Delta region, particularly Bodo, at the hands of the two 2008 oil spills. According to a 2011 Amnesty International report, the spill severely impacted the price and availability of food, and the quality of drinking water. Immediately following the spill, villagers were bathing children in water contaminated by crude oil.
The lower quality of life is contributing to unrest as well, and social tensions are rising. According to Amnesty International, “more young people are starting to take part in illegal activities to earn a living, such as stealing crude oil (known as bunkering) and illegally refining oil. Such activities may have exacerbated pollution in the area.”