Oil giant Shell was warned by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline had a “risk and likelihood of rupture” years before two spills in 2008 spewed as much as 500,000 barrels of oil in the town of Bodo in Southern Nigeria.
The BBC reported these revelations after viewing internal company documents submitted to a court in London, where some 15,000 Nigerians are suing Shell over a separate spill from the same pipeline.
The documents uncovered in the London court may lead to a much bigger penalty against the company for the 2008 spills. A court in the Hague found Shell only partly responsible for those spills after four farmers sued the company in 2012. Shell's lawyers argued that the company had taken the necessary precautions, including installing leak detection systems, prior to the rupturing of the pipeline, and blamed acts of sabotage and attempted thefts for the spills.
But internal emails, letters, and reports show not only that no leak detection system was ever installed, according to the BBC, but also that Shell employees were warning management of the pipeline's decrepit state and the risk it posed to the surrounding communities. One study conducted by Shell's Nigeria business and a consulting arm as far back as 2000 had concluded that the pipeline's life expectancy was “more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”
Mark Jaccard is professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University.
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