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Subject: Rachel #546: Crimes of Shell
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. RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #546 .
. ---May 15, 1997--- .
. HEADLINES: .
. CRIMES OF SHELL .
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CRIMES OF SHELL
The Shell oil corporation has blood on its hands, and a worldwide
boycott of Shell products is under way. Two recent reports[1,2]
on the Shell subsidiary in Nigeria, Africa, have documented
massive environmental destruction in the Niger River delta
region, where Shell has spilled some 56 million gallons of oil
onto farmlands and into community water supplies.[1,pg.45] The
destroyed land and water formerly provided sustenance for an
indigenous people, the Ogoni. A recent video confirms these
reports of Shell's environmental abuse and mismanagement in
But Shell's crimes are deeper still. When Ogoni activists
organized to demand that Shell clean up spilled oil, and share
oil profits more equitably with the Ogoni people, the Nigerian
military dictatorship --with financial assistance, logistical
support, and guns provided by Shell[1,pgs.23,43,91-92]
--conducted a campaign of terror in which at least 1800 Ogoni
people were murdered, some of them tortured to death.[1,pg.95]
The Ogoni peoples' struggle against Shell burst into headlines
November 10, 1995, when the Nigerian dictatorship executed 9
Ogoni environmental activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Saro-Wiwa had received the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa
April 17, 1995 in recognition of his environmental work on behalf
of the Ogoni people. Saro-Wiwa had also received the Right
Livelihood Award December 9, 1994.[1,pg.95] Both awards are said
to carry prestige equivalent to the Nobel peace prize. In
addition to being an environmentalist and community leader,
Saro-Wiwa was well-known in his homeland, and internationally, as
a poet and essayist. His last words, just as he was executed
by hanging, were, "Lord, take my soul but the struggle continues!"
Within weeks of the executions, Shell contracted with the
Nigerian dictatorship to build a large liquefied natural gas
plant, thus sending a signal that it was business as usual for
Shell and that Shell was continuing to support the military
According to the World Council of Churches, key witnesses for the
prosecution at Ken Saro-Wiwa's trial have signed sworn affidavits
saying they were bribed by Shell to testify against
Since late 1995, the dictatorship has been holding 19 more Ogoni
environmental activists, charged with the same crime for which
the Ogoni 9 were executed. The World Council of Churches
reported in late 1996 that, "...as a result of the inhuman
treatment, torture, denial of medical care, starvation and poor
sanitary conditions, most of the detainees are in very poor
The Ogoni people --500,000 of them[1,pg.8] --inhabit a
404-square-mile-area called the Rivers State in Nigeria in west
Africa. They represent 0.05% of the Nigerian population, so they
are a tiny minority. Ken Saro-Wiwa compared the Ogoni to other
indigenous people around the world: the Aborigines of Australia,
the Maori of New Zealand, and the native people of North and
South America. "Their common history is of the usurpation of
their land and resources, the destruction of their culture, and
the eventual decimation of the people," he wrote.[1,pg.19] Since
1958, $30 billion worth of oil has been taken from beneath the
land of the Ogoni, yet essentially zero benefits have accrued to
the Ogoni themselves. When the World Council of Churches sent
observers to Ogoniland in 1995, they found no piped water
supplies, no good roads, no electricity, no telephones, and no
proper health care facilities.[1,pg.24] Further, they reported
that, in oil-rich Ogoniland, gasoline is hand-pumped from a
cement holding tank into large plastic containers, then poured
into a smaller can with a long neck, from which the gasoline is
finally poured into a vehicle's gas tank. Such is the state of
modernization made possible by Shell's post-modern colonial
Shell, a Dutch company, is the 10th largest corporation in the
world, and No. 1 in profitability.[2,pg.4] Shell has 96 oil
production wells in Ogoniland, 5 flow stations (large pumping
stations), and numerous gas flares which have operated
continuously for 35 years.[1,pg.31] In addition, Shell maintains
many high-pressure oil pipelines criss-crossing Ogoniland,
carrying oil from other parts of Nigeria to the shipping terminal
at Bonny.[1,pg.32] In response to growing pressure for reform in
Ogoniland in 1993, Shell ceased oil production there, but
retained its network of pipelines carrying oil produced elsewhere
in Nigeria. (The World Council of Churches finds evidence that
Shell has not in fact ceased oil production in
Ogoniland,[1,pgs.31-33] but Shell insists its production wells
Between 1976 and 1980, Shell operations caused 784 separate oil
spills in Nigeria.[1,pg.45]. From 1982 to 1992, 27 additional
spills were recorded. Since Shell "ceased oil production" in
Ogoniland in 1993, Shell admits another 24 oil spills have
Shell operates in 100 countries, but 40% of all its oil spills
have occurred in Nigeria.[1,pg.28] Shell says the spills result
from "sabotage" but the World Council of Churches reports "there
has not been one single piece of evidence produced by Shell to
back up its claims that oil spills in Ogoniland were caused by
Shell controls at least 60% of all the oil reserves in Nigeria
and oil accounts for 80% of Nigeria's total revenues and 90% of
its foreign exchange earnings.[1,pg.44] As a result, Shell is an
extremely powerful political force in Nigeria. The World Council
of Churches has described a revolving door --Shell executives
becoming Nigerian political officials, and Nigerian political
officials becoming Shell employees.[1,pg.44] However, Shell
maintains that it has no political influence and cannot affect
the fate of political prisoners in Nigeria.
Shell admits to 3000 polluted sites affected by oil operations on
Ogoni soil. According to the World Council of Churches, Shell
also admits to flaring 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each
day for 35 years, causing acid rain in the Niger delta during
about 10% of the days each year.[1,pg.41] Furthermore, the
flares produce a rain of fine particles, a cancer-causing soot
that permeates everything --land water, homes, lungs.
Shell's environmental abuses in Ogoniland came as a shock to
observers sent by the World Council of Churches. They wrote,
"Having followed all the events in Ogoniland, reading all the
reports and seeing the videos such as DRILLING FIELDS and DELTA
FORCE3, did not prepare us for the devastation we saw at the
numerous spill sites we visited," they wrote.[1,pg.24]
Observers from the World Council of Churches describe a site
where Shell had spilled oil in 1969: "Even though this spill
occurred 26 years ago, its devastating impact is still very
apparent," they wrote.[1,pg.34] "The soil and oil are caked
together into a thick black crust which covers the area. Liquid
crude oil is still present in deep crevices (2 to 3 feet deep),
formed in spots where trees once stood.... The air remains
polluted by the vapour from the spilled crude oil; this becomes
particularly noticeable when the south-west wind blows. The oil
spill seems to have polluted the creek nearby. The oil flowed
into the body of water and we were told that it can still be seen
floating on the surface of the creek water that people still
drink. We were unable to move near the creek as the earth was
dangerously soggy with a combination of soil, oil, and water....
It is amazing that so much devastation exists after 26
Since the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, his brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa,
has been touring the world describing the Ogoni peoples' struggle
against the combined forces of Shell and the military dictators
of Nigeria. Dr. Wiwa, an articulate, soft-spoken physician, was
himself held prisoner (without charges) by Nigerian authorities
on more than one occasion.[1,pg.93] He is now a political exile
living in Toronto, Canada, though most of his time is spent on
the road, urging people to boycott Shell products.
In late March of this year, U.S. environmental justice activists
met in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss environmental justice
struggles across the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Wiwa gave the keynote
address. "Our people are dying at the hands of our government
and Shell Oil," Dr. Wiwa told the assembled activists in Atlanta.
Dr. Robert D. Bullard, a well-known environmental justice leader
and author of CONFRONTING ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM: VOICES FROM THE
GRASSROOTS, told the Atlanta meeting, "the quest for healthy and
sustainable communities and environmental justice does not stop
at U.S. borders... we have a moral and ethical obligation to
direct our collective action and purchasing power to respond to
Dr. Wiwa and the Ogoni's struggle in Nigeria, just as we
responded to the oppression of apartheid in South Africa."
Asked recently what Americans could do to help the Ogoni people,
Dr. Wiwa gave four recommendations:
1. Boycott Shell. Do not buy ANY Shell products.
2. Encourage selective purchasing contracts, such as the one now
in force in Oakland, California. Last fall the Oakland City
Council passed a city-wide ordinance prohib-iting the city from
doing business with Nigeria. Dr. Wiwa is urging all city
councils to adopt selective purchasing laws to prevent their city
from investing in or trading with Nigeria OR ANY COMPANIES
CARRYING OUT BUSINESS IN NIGERIA.
3. Pressure Congress to impose sanctions against Nigeria, just as
the U.S. has recently done against Burma for human rights abuses.
4. Contact the president of Shell's U.S. subsidiary: Philip J.
Carroll, Shell Oil Company, P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252;
(800) 248-4257; fax (713) 241-4044.
Mr. Carroll may respond that Shell's U.S. subsidiary has nothing
to do with what's happening in Nigeria. But 10% of Shell's
profits come from its U.S. operations, so the U.S. subsidiary has
major clout with its Dutch parent corporation. Refusal to
exercise that clout is a moral failure. Up to now, Mr. Carroll
himself has blood on his hands, in our view.
Even if Mr. Carroll cannot understand the moral argument, you
could tell him you will be boycotting Shell's products until they
clean up their environmental mess in Nigeria and fully compensate
the Ogoni people for past damages and injustices. Mr. Carroll
will certainly understand the meaning of "boycott."
To get breaking news about the campaign to end Shell's
environmental and human rights abuses in Ogoniland, you could
join the internet discussion group, Shell-Nigeria-action. To
subscribe to the list, send email to email@example.com with
the message: subscribe shell-nigeria-action <your email address>.
To post information to the list, address your message to:
For further information, contact:
1) Dr. Owens Wiwa: firstname.lastname@example.org
2) Stephen Mills at Sierra Club in Washington, D.C. Telephone
(202) 675-6691. Mr. Mills has organized a petition campaign that
could use more volunteers.
3) Ann Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC
20036. Telephone (202) 387-8030. An important source of
What is the top priority? BOYCOTT SHELL.
(National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Deborah Robinson and others, OGONI, THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
(Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, December, 1996).
Available from World Council of Churches, P.O. Box 2100, 1211
Geneva 2, Switzerland; telephone (+41) 22 791-6111; fax: (+41) 22
 PEN Center USA West, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, SHELL AND
NIGERIA (Los Angeles, California: PEN Center USA West, March,
1997). Available from: PEN Center USA West, 672 South Lafayette
Park Place #41, Los Angeles, California 90057; telephone (213)
365-8500. PEN is a worldwide association of professional writers.
 The most recent video, DELTA FORCE, is available for $10 from
Ann Leonard, Essential Action, P.O. Box 19405, Washington, DC
20036. Telephone (202) 387-8030.
 Ken Saro-Wiwa, A MONTH AND A DAY: A DETENTION DIARY (London:
Penguin Books, 1995). Ken Saro-Wiwa, ON A DARKLING PLAIN (Port
Harcourt, Nigeria: Saros International Publishers, 1989). Ken
Saro-Wiwa, OGONI MOMENT OF TRUTH (Lagos, Nigeria: Saros
International Publishers, 1994).
Descriptor terms: shell; petroleum industry; boycotts; nigeria;
ken saro-wiwa; owens wiwa; africa; oil; videos; ogoni people;
ogoniland; indigenous people; world council of churches;
netherlands; oil spills; fine particles; air pollution; robert
bullard; oakland, ca; philip carrol; ann leonard; stephen mills;
Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic
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even though it costs our organization considerable time and money
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by credit card please phone us toll free at 1-888-2RACHEL.
--Peter Montague, Editor