Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) yesterday disputed a report by Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) that its operations in the Niger Delta breached basic standards for responsible business set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
This happened as Amnesty International and FoEI filed an official complaint against Shell for alleged breaches of basic standards for responsible business set out by OECD.
The two organisations filed the complaint with United Kingdom and Netherlands government contact points for the OECD.
They accused Shell of using discredited and misleading information to blame the majority of oil pollution in the Niger Delta on sabotage, claiming it "breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises".
The allegations are considered weighty in the wake of the billions of dollars in fines handed BP by the US government over the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year which claimed 11 lives.
But in a swift reaction, a Shell's spokesman in Nigeria, Mr. Precious Okolobo, said the allegation was untrue and completely unfounded.
"SPDC has reported oil spill data since 1996. Every oil spill is independently assessed by a joint inspection team comprising SPDC, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and community members - who agree on the cause and the volume of oil spilled," he said.
Okolobo said the discrepancy between the originally reported figure for 2008 and the updated one was explained at length in the company's 2009 briefing notes on the company's website.
He said the spill, which was 44,000 barrels, was not included originally because it had not been certified by the independent joint inspection team at the time.
The Shell's spokesman noted that the oil giant was proactive in bringing this issue to the attention of many interested third parties, including Amnesty International.
He reiterated the position of the oil giant that over 70 per cent of spill incidents by volume and number of incidents over the past five years had been due to sabotage, militant action or crude oil theft.
"This figure was 98 per cent for 2009. We stand by these figures and publish them annually because we can back them up if necessary," he said.
But while Amnesty International and FoEI acknowledged that sabotage was a problem in the Niger Delta, they said that they had repeatedly challenged Shell's use of such figures.
The two bodies also stated that Shell's figures have also been strongly criticised by environmental groups and communities.
"Under Nigerian law, when spills are classified as being the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability with respect to compensation for damage done to people or their livelihoods," said the organisations.
Amnesty International's Director of Global Issues, Audrey Gaughran, said Shell's figures totally lacked credibility.
"Widespread oil pollution is a key problem caused by oil industry in the Niger Delta, but the oil spill investigation system is totally lacking in independence," he said.
Both FoEI and Amnesty International said they found that in many cases oil companies have significant influence on determining the official cause of a spill.
Director of Friends of the Earth (ERA) and chair of FoEI, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, said the organisation monitors spills regularly, adding that their observations often contradict information produced by Shell.
"Several studies have placed the bulk of the blame for oil spills in the Niger Delta on the doorsteps of the oil companies; particularly Shell. It should take its responsibility and clean up the mess it made in our country," he said.
"Despite repeated requests, Shell has so far failed to make clear the basis for the figures they have published and how the data were gathered. Furthermore, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International have documented cases where Shell claimed the cause of a spill was sabotage, but the claim was subsequently questioned by other investigations or the courts. In 2009 Shell was compelled to correct misleading information regarding the cause of oil spills.
"After repeatedly claiming that 85 per cent of all oil spills in 2008 were caused by sabotage, it announced that the figure was closer to 50 per cent. Neither the claims of 85per cent or 50per cent have been properly explained. Moreover, Shell made almost no attempt to correct the erroneous impression created by its widespread use of the 85per cent figure," said the report.
Meanwhile, Shell will today under scrutiny for its environmental and human rights impacts during a hearing in the Dutch Parliament on the company's activities in Nigeria.