* Nigerians taking Shell to UK court over Bodo spill
* Amnesty says more than 103,000 barrels spilt
* Shell says legal action is delaying clean up
By Tim Cocks
LAGOS, April 23 An oil spill in Nigeria for
which Royal Dutch Shell is being sued for tens of millions of
dollars in a London court was at least 60 times worse than it
announced, a report by Amnesty International said on Monday,
citing research it commissioned.
A Shell spokeswoman said it was not appropriate to
comment on the estimate while the spill was still the subject of
litigation, adding that efforts to clean up had been hampered by
insecurity in the Bodo area of the Niger Delta and by oil theft
that had caused even more oil to be spilt since.
A group of 11,000 Nigerians launched a suit against Royal
Dutch Shell at the London High Court last month for two
oil spills in 2008/9 that they say destroyed their livelihoods.
SPDC, a Shell-run joint venture between the state oil firm,
which holds 55 percent, Shell, with 30 percent, EPNL, with 10
percent and Agip, with 5 percent, admits responsibility
for two spills that devastated the Bodo fishing communities in
the Niger Delta, a labyrinth of creeks and swaps.
The Amnesty accusation is based on footage of one of the oil
leaks sent to Washington State-based research company Accufacts,
which examined the flow rate from the film and found it to be
between one and three barrels a minute.
Amnesty extrapolated that the total oil spilled "over the 72
day period is between 103,000 barrels and 311,000 barrels."
The high end of Amnesty's estimate is still only half the
600,000 barrels that lawyer Martyn Day, who represents the
affected Bodo communities, says may have been spilt. But it is
much greater than the 1,640 barrels Shell says flowed out.
"The difference is staggering: even using the lower end of
the Accufacts estimate, the volume of oil spilt at Bodo was more
than 60 times the volume Shell has repeatedly claimed leaked,"
Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty
International, said in a statement.
Success in Day's case would create a precedent that other
communities affected by oil spills around the world might
follow. It is being nervously watched by the oil industry.
Shell spokeswoman Sarah Bradley told Reuters around 4,000
barrels of oil were spilt in total in the two spills -- about
1,640 barrels in the one Amnesty investigated that was stopped
in Nov. 2008, and another 2,500 barrels from a corroded pipe
that was fixed in Feb. 2009.
Accufacts officials were not immediately available for
comment, and Amnesty was not able say how long the footage was.
A letter from them to Amnesty obtained by Reuters said "the
oil release rate in the video is ... 1 to 3 barrels a minute,
largely driven by ... girth weld leak failures."
"It is also worth noting that once the leak started, the
leak rate would not decrease for some time, until the operator
discovered the release and ... evacuated the pipeline."
Shell agreed in August that a Nigerian community affected by
the spill can claim compensation in a British court, setting a
precedent for such claims.
"We accept the need for due process to be followed. However,
... cynical games played by lawyers in both countries ... have
prevented the swift payment of compensation in this case, and
delayed clean-up operations," Bradley said.
She reiterated Shell's position that sabotage of pipelines
by oil thieves was a greater cause of spills than accidents.
Amnesty admitted sabotage was a major problem but said the
basis for the claim it is the main cause of spills was "an oil
spill investigation process (by Shell) which is deeply flawed."
"The cause of spills, the volume of oil spilt, and other
important parameters like the start date are not recorded in any
credible way," the watchdog said.