In DepthThe QuestionDo oil companies care enough about oil spills?


Posted on Monday, 11 August 2014 13:21

Do oil companies care enough about oil spills?

By The Africa Report

In June the first judgement in a test case against shell at London's High Court ruled that the company may be liable for oil spills caused by sabotage or theft. The case has been brought by 15,000 villagers in the Niger Delta.

Yes Most oil companies care about oil spills. Sadly though, most companies are concerned only for commercial and reputational reasons. If oil companies are not under pressure from governments to behave well, then most will not do so. The Niger Delta is one of the world's greatest environmental disasters because thousands of oil spills have occurred over decades and most have not been properly cleaned up. The main company involved in the Niger Delta is the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. There are hundreds of leaks from Shell's pipes every year. The company's defence is that other people – saboteurs and thieves – cause most of the spills but this is widely disputed. Amnesty International has exposed cases in which Shell has wrongly reported the cause of oil spills, the volume of oil spilt, or the extent and adequacy of clean-up measures. In our opinion, Shell behaves badly in the Niger Delta because it can get away with it. Government regulators are notoriously weak, and the government of Nigeria – a partner in the oil industry – has never held the company to account. Companies act better when they are compelled to by firm regulation imposed by governments who are acting in the public interest. ● Audrey Gaughran - Director, Global Thematic Issues, Amnesty International.



No The discovery of crude oil in more African countries brings hope and joy to those countries, but a few years into oil production all that joy will turn to gloom and all the hopes will be dashed. While governments and big business in the big cities may continue to smile to the bank, oil trashes the African environment relentlessly. Oil is extremely seductive not because of the easy conversion into energy, but because of the smell of cash that goes with it. Today, many parts of the Niger Delta environment are dead. The waters are dead; the lands dead and their air on life support. These veritable crime scenes remain as totems to the intransigence of rampaging oil companies. Governments and citizens of countries like Uganda, Ghana and Kenya will insist that the sorry story of Nigeria would not be replicated in their lands. We wish they were right. Governments dependent on oil rents cannot demand strict observance of environmental regulations. And the oil companies take advantage of that situation. Oil spills in Africa are nothing but a petty nuisance to the international oil companies operating here. The onus rests on citizens to hold their governments to account and insist on critical accounting to verify if the cash that flows into national treasuries can offset the environmental costs. If not, this sad trend will continue. ● Nnimmo Bassey - Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF).

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