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ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ACTION (ERA)
214 Uselu-Lagos Road, P.O. Box 10577, Benin City, Nigeria
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ERA Field Report #46


Subject: "Shell fails to clean spill, refuses to pay compensation"
Dispatch: Amuse, Oyigbo Local Government Area, Rivers State.
From: Patrick Naagbanton
Date: November, 22, 1999

HIGHLIGHTS
Shell's spills endangers local environment and population.

"Shell has promised us several things, but have not done any. Apart from that, the issue of environmental devastation that is still threatening us. Two major spills have occurred between 1991 and 1999 and Shell refuses to clean spills from our lands and rivers and pay compensation to us".
Mr. Louis Nwanchukwu, chairman, Umusia Community development Committee (CDC).

"One thing I discovered from the Niger Delta crisis is that, Peaceful Communities like ours will not get anything, whereas Shell may pay attention to communities whose facilities are threatened. We have lived with them for so many years and Shell has regarded us as fools, violence is not the best approach, Shell should respect us and give us our rights."
Mr. John Nwafor, General secretary of Umusia Youth Organisation.
INTRODUCTION
Umusia is a rural Community in Oyigbo Local Government Council Rivers State. The people depend on subsistence farming and fishing for survival. Shell started oil exploration in the community in 1958. Today Shell has 12 functioning oil wells in the community as well as flow-lines and pipelines that cross community farmlands and forests.

SPIRAL OF SPILLS
In January 1999,a major blow-out at Shell's "railway manifold" occurred as the valve of the ill-maintained facility could not withstand the high pressure of oil and gas. This resulted in spillage of crude into surrounding environment, polluting farmlands and wetlands. Though Shell officials accepted the fact that the spill was caused by equipment failure, the company failed to clean the spill site and refused to compensate victims as the spillage, according to them, "is a minor one".

Mr. Louis Nwanchukwu, the CDC chairman lamented to ERA field monitor, that in September, 1991, a previous oil spill occurred at the same "Railway manifold" in the Community and spread crude oil indiscriminately into the adjacent farmlands and shallow swamps in the area. The community leader said the spill, like the recent incidence, was caused by failure of Shell’s facilities which resulted in a major blow-out. Shell attributed the 1999 blow-out to Sabotage by community people. The community leader said that the facility was repaired, but the spill was neither cleaned nor was compensation paid to community people whose farmlands were polluted by the spill.

During site visit/assessment, ERA discovered that the vicinity of the affected manifold was cleaned-up while the affected nearby farmlands and other shallow waters were still brownish; (an indication of soil contamination by crude oil).

Mrs... Gloria Ndukka, a 61 years old, and mother of 8 whose cassava farmland was affected told ERA in an interview that since 1999, her farm yield has been very low and " I have no other farm than this one", she lamented. The spill was neither cleaned nor was compensation paid.

POLLUTED FARMLANDS, VEGETATION AND RIVERS
Near the affected manifold is a stream, "Mini-Ugo", which serves as one of the sources of drinking water for the Umusia Community. The "railway manifold" is about kilometre away from human settlement. Community people say that during the recent high floods (October and early November, 1999), when the Imo River basin over flowed its banks, the situation was aggravated as tidal transportation of crude oil from one area to another spread the spill to other communities polluting farmlands, forests and drinking water.

LACK OF BASIC SOCIAL AMENITIES
Despite the community's nearness to Shell's major oil installations such as manifolds, oil wells, and network of pipelines, the Community is very poor and undeveloped in basic infrastructure facilities. There are good access roads to Shell facilities, regular electricity supply and portable water, but the host community lack all such basic amenities.

ERA'S RECOMMENDATIONS
  • Shell should clean up the spills in UMUSIA and other affected communities
  • Shell should pay compensation to the community for the damage suffered by the locals as a result of oil spills.
  • Shell should take immediate steps to maintain its facilities and change all decaying pipelines and conduct a post-assessment study of the affected environment
WHAT YOU CAN DO
  • Send a letter to Shell urging them to clean the spill s and pay compensation.
  • Send copies of your letter to editors of your local newspapers.
  • Send copies of your letter to concerned local and international environmental rights groups and to legislator(s) from your constituency (if Nigerian) requesting them to raise issues of environmental concern in the House, as part mandate and obligation to the people.
For more information, contact our offices or e-mail us at any of these addresses.