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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rebranding of Z petrol hides foreign impact

Nigeria Ogoniland clean-up could take 30 years

Nigeria's Ogoniland region could take 30 years to recover fully from the damage caused by years of oil spills, a long-awated United Nations report says.

The study says complete restoration could entail the world's "most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up".

Communities faced a severe health risk, with some families drinking water with high levels of carcinogens, it said.

Oil giant Shell has accepted liability for two spills and said all oil spills were bad for Nigeria and the company.

"We will continue working with our partners in Nigeria, including the government, to solve these problems and on the next steps to help clean up Ogoniland," Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), said in a statement.

The Bodo fishing community has said it will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

Nigeria is one of the world's major oil producers.

While the Super Fund and Infratil is in the process of rebranding Shell Oil's downstream distribution throughout New Zealand as a clean, green New Zealand company called 'Z' that is committed to sustainability, a major report has been released by the United Nations Environmental Programme that highlights the impact that this particularly dodgy multinational has been having on communities in Nigeria. While the world responded in outrage to BP's oil spills off the Florida coast, there has been little attention internationally to Shell's dealings, which could only be described as an abhorrent abuse of economic privilege.

Shell's history in Nigeria is one that is fraught with problems. The company began oil production in 1958. Nigeria is the fourth largest oil supplier to the United States, and oil difficulties there have been cited as having the potential to cause another economic recession through causing the price of barrels to fluctuate. Nigeria is resource rich and infrastructure poor, home to approximately 151 million people and sub-Saharan Africa's largest economic powerhouse. 95% of Government revenues come from oil, of which the production is largely concentrated in the Delta area, exacerbating issues in a country that is also split nearly 50-50 between its Christian and Muslim population. The inequalities between the regions has created problems, with western exploitation creating rifts between locals and foreign oil workers. A the UNEP report highlights, people living in this area live among swamps of oil, threatening the livelihood and water supplies of people that exist below the poverty line.

Shell's role in Nigeria has given rise to activism within the nation, with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People challenging the multinational's impact on communities throughout the 1990s. This led to the execution of prominent Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hung along with eight other activists. While it was the then government that actioned the crime, Shell Oil was sued by human rights groups for summary execution, torture and crimes against humanity. They eventually settled out of court in 2009, with Shell settling out of court for $15.5 million.

Shell has been criticized by human rights groups for their decaying and rusty oil pipes, and their slow response to oil spills which threaten the very existence of locals. While it is true that some of these oil spills are due to locals hacking into the pipes, Shell has systematically over-emphasized this in order to deny corporate responsibility. The first thing one sees when they fly into Lagos, as I did last year, is the oil flares across this region.

A Shell executive in Australia was also caught on Wikileaks boasting last year that Shell had managed to infiltrate every branch of the Nigerian government.

A spokesman for Z petrol stations informed me that Shell are selling off their distribution rights worldwide to focus on oil exploration as the world begins to run out of oil. While clearly Z is not Shell, the rebranding of the oil as New Zealand oriented is problematic and effaces the role and responsibility that consumers have in exercising choice in how they spend their dollar. Given the debate over the Super Fund also investing in Japanese nuclear submarines, ethics seem to be at the bottom of the list for investment. While most of the oil that Z will sell is from the Middle East, there's one thing for sure: it ain't clean and it ain't green.


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