(EnergyAsia, August 26 2011, Friday) — Amnesty International has demanded that Shell “totally overhaul their procedures” for cleaning up oil spills in Nigeria following the release of a long-awaited UN report confirming the company’s extensive role in polluting the Niger Delta region.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report said Shell’s oil spill clean-up procedures in the region’s Ogoniland area are inadequate, confirming what Amnesty International has repeatedly pointed out.

“The findings of the UN report add further weight to what Amnesty International and others have been saying for years regarding Shell in the Niger Delta”, said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director.

“That a UN team found that supposedly “clean” oil spill sites were in some cases indistinguishable from contaminated ones, is deeply shocking, but also symptomatic of Shell’s lack of consideration for the human impact of oil pollution. Shell must immediately follow through on the UN’s recommendations and carry out a thorough review of their clean-up procedures in the Delta,” she said.

When examining several recent spills, UNEP found there was always a delay between the time the spillage was observed and dealt with. In the worst situations, oil left on the ground posed an imminent safety risk and ongoing environmental hazard.

Many areas of the Niger Delta remain polluted because of failure by companies to clean up pollution and rehabilitate the soil and water.

Shell has sought to blame most of its oil spills on theft, vandalism or sabotage by militant groups, which Amnesty said is widely disputed as there is no independent assessment of the causes.

Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth have filed an official complaint against Shell over misleading statements the company has made about sabotage.

“People in Ogoniland have been exposed to widespread and severe oil contamination for decades, according to the UN report, which also exposes the serious failure of the Nigerian government to regulate and control companies like Shell,” said Amnesty.

UNEP noted that Nigeria’s regulators are weak and that the national oil spill investigation agency is often totally reliant on the oil companies to do its work. The report also found that there are other, relatively new but worrying sources of pollution in Ogoniland such as illegal refining but it is clear that Shell’s poor practice stretching back decades is a major factor in the contamination of the area.

Despite regulations being in place stating that oil companies must clean up all oil spills regardless of their causes, the Nigerian government rarely enforces them, said Amnesty.

In an open letter, the managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) said the company accepted responsibility for two spills in the Bodo area in 2008, and that it would pay compensation when spills occur as a result of operational failure.

However, Mr Mutiu Sunmonu also criticized “inaccurate reporting” for creating the impression that SPDC in particular and oil companies in general are responsible for all oil spills in Nigeria.

He said: “The two spills at issue here resulted in around 4,000 barrels of oil being spilt. It is regrettable that any oil is spilt anywhere, but it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that those two spills represent anything like the scale which some reports refer to. Equally, speculation by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as to the level of compensation which may be payable is misguided and massively in excess of the true position.”

He called for the Nigerian government, which owns a majority interest in the assets operated by SPDC under a joint operating agreement with the Nigerian state oil company, NNPC, to make concerted effort to working with the oil industry to “end the blight of illegal refining and oil theft in the Niger Delta, both of which perpetuate poverty.”