JOHANNESBURG — Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigeria subsidiary “fiercely
opposed” environmental testing and is concealing data showing
thousands of Nigerians are exposed to health hazards from a stalled
cleanup of the worst oil spills in the West African nation’s history,
according to a German geologist contracted by the Dutch-British
An environmental study found “astonishingly high” pollution levels
with soil “literally soaked with hydrocarbons,” geologist Kay
Holtzmann wrote in a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative.
The people of Bodo in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta should
get urgent medical tests, Holtzmann wrote in the letter dated Jan. 26
and seen by The Associated Press.
Shell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The cleanup halted 17 months ago was part of a British out-of-court
settlement in which Shell paid $83.5 million to 15,600 fishermen and
farmers for damages from two oil spills caused by old pipelines in
2008 and 2009 that devastated thousands of hectares of mangroves and
creeks. Lawyers alleged 500,000 barrels of oil spilled. Shell said it
was only 1,640 barrels and initially offered the community $50,000 in
The agreement was reached through British law firm Leigh Day, which
said Friday it has received no response to a Jan. 30 letter to Shell
asking for the data from Holtzmann, who was hired by Shell to manage
the cleanup.
“Leigh Day has been pushing for the cleanup of Bodo, health screening
of the population and testing of the water supply since 2011 – all to
no avail,” it said. “This letter shows that even those who were
employed by Shell are deeply concerned by their behavior and their
lack of transparency.”
Holtzmann’s letter warns that children bathing in creeks are in danger
of harm from toxic substances, as are people who drink from hand-dug
Amnesty International called Shell “deeply irresponsible … Shell has
a responsibility to share this information with the community to
ensure they can take steps to protect themselves and their children,”
a statement from the rights group said.
Cleanup efforts overseen by the Dutch government began in June 2015
but were halted within months by community disputes and problems with
Holtzmann’s letter urges Bodo Mediation Initiative co-chair Inemo
Samiama to publish the data, noting that the initiative’s committee
had insisted on the tests “against fierce opposition from SPDC.” Shell
Petroleum Development Co. is the subsidiary in which Nigeria’s
government is the majority shareholder. The country is one of Africa’s
largest oil producers.
The environmental tests were carried out in August 2015 with support
from Shell’s headquarters in The Hague, the letter said.
Holtzmann said his intent to publish the findings in a scientific
magazine last year was quashed by Shell, which said his contract did
not permit publication.
Samiama said in a telephone interview that residents’ health will be
better served by getting on with the cleanup. After a challenging
four-year process, “we are on the verge of getting contractors back to
the site,” he said.
Bodo is part of Ogoniland, where the failure to clean up oil spills
was called an environmental scandal in 2011 by the U.N. Environment
Program. It reported contamination levels so high it could take 30
years to renew the land.