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Shell Scientist Says Company Hid Nigeria Oil Spill Dangers


FILE - In this Sunday June 20, 2010 file photo, men walk in an oil slick covering a creek near Bodo City in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, FILE)


A German scientist working for Royal Dutch Shell believes the oil company’s businesses in Nigeria “fiercely opposed” environmental testing.

The scientist, Kay Holtzmann, also accused the businesses of hiding information. He said it shows that thousands of Nigerians are being exposed to health dangers because of a delay in efforts to clean-up the worst oil spills in Nigeria’s history.

Holtzmann noted that an environmental study found extremely high pollution levels with soil full of hydrocarbons. The people of Bodo in the Niger Delta should get urgent medical tests, he added.

The Associated Press, or AP, says his comments were in a letter written to the Bodo Mediation Initiative. The group was set up to make sure the cleanup follows international requirements.

Shell had no immediate reaction when asked by the AP for comment.

The cleanup operation stopped 17 months ago. Those efforts were part of a British settlement requiring the company to pay $83.5 million to 15,600 fishermen and farmers for damages.

The court ruled that old pipes were to blame for oil spills in 2008 and 2009. The oil damaged thousands of hectares of coastal plant life and waterways.

Oil slick flows at the base of the mangrove at Bodo creek, outside Nigeria's oil hub city of Port Harcourt August 2, 2012. Prosperity has flowed from Ogoniland, one of Africa's earliest crude oil producing areas, for decades. But it has flowed to the big

Oil slick flows at the base of the mangrove at Bodo creek, outside Nigeria's oil hub city of Port Harcourt August 2, 2012. Prosperity has flowed from Ogoniland, one of Africa's earliest crude oil producing areas, for decades. But it has flowed to the big

Lawyers claimed that as much as 500,000 barrels of oil polluted the area. Shell officials said it was only 1,640 barrels. The company initially offered the community $50,000 for the damage.

The settlement was reached through the British law office Leigh Day. The office said on Friday it has received no reaction to a January letter it wrote to Shell requesting more information from Kay Holtzmann. The Dutch-British oil company was paying him to direct the cleanup operations.

"Leigh Day has been pushing for the cleanup of Bodo,” the letter said. The letter also stated Leigh Day has requested health exams for the population and tests of the water supply since 2011.

Leigh Day’s letter also noted that the Holztmann letter proves even people working for Shell are concerned about its behavior.

The letter warns that children washing up in creeks are risking harm from dangerous substances. People who drink from hand-dug wells are also at risk, it said.

In a statement, rights group Amnesty International called Shell "deeply irresponsible.” It added: “Shell has a responsibility to share this information with the community to ensure they can take steps to protect themselves and their children.”

The Dutch government began supervising cleanup efforts in June 2015, but community disagreements and labor problems stopped the efforts.

Holtzmann's letter urges a representative of the Bodo Mediation Initiative to publish the information. The letter notes that the initiative wanted the tests – against strong opposition from the Shell Petroleum Development Company, or SPDC.

Nigeria is one of Africa's largest oil producers. The Nigerian government is the majority owner of SPDC.

The environmental tests were done in August 2015 with support from Royal Dutch Shell's headquarters in The Hague, the letter said.

Holtzmann said he wanted to publish the study findings in a scientific magazine last year, but Shell stopped him. Shell officials said his work agreement with the company did not permit publication.

An official from the Bodo Mediation Initiative said that the local population’s health will be better served by restarting the cleanup work.

Bodo is part of Ogoniland, where the failure to clean up oil spills was called an environmental scandal in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Program. The U.N. agency reported pollution levels so high that it could take 30 years to renew the land.

I’m Alice Bryant.

The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

hydrocarbon - n. a substance, such as coal or natural gas, that contains only carbon and hydrogen

creek - n. a small waterway

scandal - n. an incident in which people are shocked because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

expose - v. to make known; to make public

barrel - n. the amount of oil in a large container (160 liters or 42 gallons of petroleum)

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