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Shell Geologist Says Company Hid Oil Spill Damages

A geologist at Royal Dutch Shell has claimed that the company has not been completely transparent in its reports of the damage caused by an oil spill that the company was involved in. 

Shell claimed responsibility for two oil spills that occurred in 2008 and 2009 as the result of the use of old pipelines, according to The Associated Press. The spill most greatly affected the residents of Bodo, which is located in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. 

Shell reportedly paid $83.5 million to fisherman and farmers in the area in an out-of-court settlement. In addition, Shell also agreed to initiate a cleanup effort. The agreement was reached through British Law Firm Leigh Day.

According to Reuters, The Bodo Mediation Initiative was started in 2013 by the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria with the goal of mediating between Shell's Nigeria subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), and the residents of Bodo during the cleanup process. 

The relationship was not as productive as some might have hoped. According to the AP, cleanup began in June of 2015. Just two months later, in August, Shell claimed that residents of Bodo had prevented the company from beginning the cleanup process, reports Reuters.

As of March, it seems that some type of agreement may have finally been reached. According to Bodo Mediation Initiative Chairman Inemo Samiama, it is likely that the cleanup process will commence in April. 

"We are hoping this time around we are going to start this clean-up once and for all and get this job done," he said, according to Reuters. 

However, recent information has come to light which suggests that Shell may have concealed information about the gravity of the effects of the spill.

Shell geologist Kay Holtzmann wrote a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative which was dated Jan. 26 and seen by the AP. Copies were also sent to Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Program Eric Solheim, the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria, and Shell, according to The Independent.

According to Holtzmann, an environmental study of the area was carried out in August 2015. The tests were initially very much opposed by the SPDC.

The letter stated that the tests found that the pollution levels of the area were "astonishingly high" and that the soil was "literally soaked with hydrocarbons," reports the AP.

Holtzmann also stated that the pollution poses an immense threat to the health of the members of the community who bathe in the surrounding creeks or use them for drinking water. According to The Independent, Holtzmann insisted on "immediate action to protect the health of the Bodo residents."

Holtzmann had wanted to publish the findings in a scientific magazine but was not allowed to do so by Shell, who said that doing so would violate his contract. 

In a telephone interview with the AP, Samiama said that the best way to address the health of Bodo residents is to push forward with the efforts to recommence the cleanup.

"[W]e are on the verge of getting contractors back to the site," he said.

Sources: AP, Reuters, The Independent / Photo credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr

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