Cablegate: A View to a Spill: Shell in the Spotlight

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) During an early August visit to Port Harcourt, CRO
met with the Center for Social and Corporate Responsibility
(CSCR), a Port Harcourt-based NGO operating on a grant from
Catholic Relief Services, to discuss CSCR's investigation
into the major October 2002 oil spill at a Shell trunk line
into Battan creek of the Warri area. Two weeks earlier CSCR
had met in Warri with senior Shell staff, including an
External Relations Manager from London, to present CSCR's
findings. CSCR requested that Shell retract its earlier
finding of "sabotage," compensate the community for the
extensive damage caused by its sub-standard equipment, and
apologize publicly to the seven"saboteurs" libeled by the
company. Shell agreed to provide compensation in the form of
community development assistance to Battan, but postponed
further action to a follow-on meeting to be held in Warri in
mid-August. That meeting was later postponed because of
intensive Itsekiri-Ijaw fighting there.


2. (SBU) An October 20,2002 rupture in a 28-inch Shell trunk
line conveying crude poured a huge volume of crude into the
Battan creek of the Warri area. According to CSCR, Shell
pulled together a Joint Investigative Team (JIT) as is the
practice in all ruptures or spills, which visited Battan
within days of the spill. Unlike the normal composition that
would include the local community, this JIT was composed only
of personnel from Shell, the federal Ministry of Environment,
the Delta State Government, and the police. The JIT then
deemed the spill "sabotage" and publicized the names of seven
Ijaw youth as "saboteurs." The seven were subsequently
picked up by the police. Shell has a strict policy of not
paying compensation to communities if a spill is determined
the work of saboteurs, and brings in outside contractors to
clean up so as not to allow the local community to benefit
financially from sabotage.


3. (SBU) Responding to the Battan spill, CSCR visited the
site, spoke with the community (which had videotaped the
results of the rupture) and was given access to the JIT
findings, including photographs of the manifold. According
to a CSCR official, the gasket lining the manifold was far
too old. It corroded and collapsed, allowing a leak that
produced great stress on the nuts and bolts holding the
manifold together. Ultimately the bolts popped and the
manifold opened up. With the manifold lying under 12 feet of
water, saboteurs would have had to use diving equipment and
still would have faced the likely impossible task of
loosening the nuts and bolts in zero visibility as oil gushed
out under tremendous pressure.

4. (SBU) The CSCR official also claimed that Shell pressured
the JIT members to come to the conclusion that sabotage was
the cause of the spill, and that that the ample police
participation in the JIT had intimidated the community from
trying to get involved in the JIT's work. While
acknowledging that Shell, with over 6,000 kilometers of oil
pipelines snaking throughout the Delta, is a top target of
pipeline vandalization, the CSCR official alleged to CRO that
Shell often cites sabotage as the cause for spills that
actually resulted from pipe failure or natural accidents in
order to avoid liability for the resulting environmental
damage. He said that Shell's pipes are over 30 years old,
well past their prime by standards in an industry that seeks
replacement of pipes in 15 years. Several NGOs and other
local observers accuse Shell of using aging equipment that
would be barred in the developed world, while hiding behind
the very real threat of sabotage to escape from liability for
the damage these corroding pipes produce.

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