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Letter to the Financial Times from SPDC MD Mutiu Sunmonu.

Sir, Your story “Pipeline leaks mar delta village” (March 20), like so much reporting on oil spills in Nigeria, fails properly to convey the highly complex situation in the Niger delta. SPDC, Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary (and operator of a joint venture in which the Nigerian government has a majority stake) admitted liability for two spills of about 4,000 barrels in total, caused by operational failures, as soon as their cause had been independently verified in late 2008 and early 2009. Indeed, we always accept liability in such circumstances, pay compensation according to Nigerian law, clean up the oil and restore the land. We are also committed to cleaning up all oil spilt from our facilities, no matter what the cause.

In the case of Bodo, it is deeply regrettable that both before and since those two operational spills occurred, much more oil has been spilt as a result of illegal activity – sabotage, illegal refining and theft – which blights the delta generally. Our clean-up teams were able to deal with the initial operational spills, but subsequently they have been prevented by local communities from reaching sites that were reimpacted by this illegal activity to begin clean-up and remediation work. This could be because those communities hold a misguided belief that more spilt oil, irrespective of the cause, equals more compensation.

Of course, we accept the need for due process to be followed. However, it is the legal process, initially in Nigeria and subsequently in the UK, and the cynical games played by lawyers in both countries, that has prevented the swift payment of compensation in this case, and has certainly delayed clean-up operations. The widespread illegal activity, which is responsible for the majority of spills, is the real tragedy of the Niger delta.

Mutiu Sunmonu, Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Lagos, Nigeria

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