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NGOs, Shell lock horns over Nigerian oil spills

BP chief defends new exploration deal
Davos, Switzerland (AFP) Jan 26, 2011 - The head of British oil giant BP said Wednesday the Gulf of Mexico disaster had "shaken us to the core," but defended oil exploration, including a new mega-deal with Russia's Rosneft. "What happened in the Gulf of Mexico has shaken us to the core," Robert Dudley, BP chief executive told AFP, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. "We've learnt a lot in terms of civil response and people see that, governments see that. "If there's any company that is going to learn and change and respond and understand their great responsibility in moving ahead with exploration, it's certainly BP," he added, after signing a deal Russia's state-run Rosneft.

BP inked a first agreement with Rosneft in mid-January to explore and develop the latter's three licensed blocks on the Russian Arctic continental shelf -- 125,000 square kilometres -- said to contain five billion tonnes of oil and 3,000 billion cubic metres of gas. They will also set up an Arctic technology centre to focus on safety, the environment and emergency procedures. In Davos, both parties inked a further deal to increase cooperation, including plans for joint projects in third-party markets. Asked about environmental concerns given the Gulf of Mexico disaster, Dudley insisted further exploration was inevitable, as he pointed to forecasts that the world will need some forty percent more energy by 2030. "If you look at energy projection figures mentioned earlier... the world will need all kinds of energy, oil, coal, nuclear and renewables. It's inevitable that frontier areas of the world will be developed. "That's an inevitabilty. We just have to do it safely and reliably."

Dudley insisted the firm would take "great, great care" in future explorations. He began his job on October 1, after predecessor Tony Hayward was forced out over his widely-criticised handling of the oil spill disaster. The April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and unleashed 4.9 million barrels of oil in the worst-ever maritime spill. BP has already spent $8 billion (six billion euros) trying to contain the disaster and has forecast that it will eventually cost the group more than $32.2 billion. Rosneft chairman Igor sechin said in Davos that the Russian partner it willing to allow BP to enter its board of directors in exchange for seats on the British oil giant's board. "We have not discussed this issue yet but if it is raised, the proposal will merit a discussion," Interfax quoted Rosneft board chairman Sechin as saying on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. "On the whole, we have nothing against a potential mutual entry into each other's board of directors," Sechin said.
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Jan 26, 2011
Environmental groups accused Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell on Wednesday of destroying lives and the environment in the Niger Delta, and urged Dutch MPs to intervene as the company defended its record.

"When will you stop treating people in Nigeria differently than you treat people in the Netherlands? When will you stop applying double standards?" Geert Ritsema of the NGO Milieudefensie asked Shell at a parliamentary committee hearing in The Hague into oil spills in Nigeria.

"We consider that Shell is doing a good job often under difficult circumstances," Shell Netherlands president Peter de Wit replied, insisting the company applied "global standards" to its operations around the world.

Shell provided "thousands of well-paid jobs, had brought know-how, education and technology" and has launched numerous community projects in Nigeria, he said.

"Our operations generally are conducted there without any problems."

NGOs disagreed, accusing the company of "systematic pollution and contempt for people's lives" during the course of its 50-year oil presence in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The groups accused Shell of hiding information and exaggerating the percentage of oil spills caused by sabotage, which the company estimated at 70 percent over the past five years.

"We would like the government of the Netherlands to require Shell to disclose data, to disclose evidence to support the statements it makes," said Amnesty International spokeswoman Audrey Gaughran.

She claimed that local regulators in Nigeria were "fearful" of testifying against the company she accused of human rights violations for robbing people in the Niger Delta of "the right to make a livelihood".

Nigeria, the world's eighth largest oil exporter, recorded at least 3,000 oil spills between 2006 and June last year, Environment Minister John Odey has said.

Sunny Ofehe Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, told the committee that Shell was initially welcomed to the area with open arms.

"More than 50 years after, what we see today is a revolution that has galvanised the youth to take up arms against the same oil companies that made promises to us but couldn't deliver.

"We have seen our environment destroyed by the oil companies trying to make profit. What we have today in the Niger Delta are swamps, polluted. Our major occupation, fishing and farming, has been taken away from us," said Ofehe.

Many people suffered from lung diseases and leukemia linked to the pollution, he claimed.

Ritsema urged MPs to use their influence to make sure that Shell uses "its considerable profits from Nigeria to maintain the pipelines in a much better state than they are now, to secure the pipelines to prevent sabotage, to stop oil flares."

Shell's sub-Saharan Africa executive vice-president Ian Craig admitted that flares had not been reduced sufficiently, but blamed "security issues" hampering access to the affected areas.

"Security has impacted our ability to maintain pipelines," he added. "If you cannot secure people's safety, they cannot do work on the pipelines."

earlier related report
New bill pending to avoid next oil spill: US senator
Washington (AFP) Jan 26, 2011 - US senators plan to introduce in the coming weeks new legislation aiming to prevent another disastrous oil spill like last year's massive slick in the Gulf of Mexico, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.

A similar bill that would revise offshore drilling rules had previously been considered but never reached a full Senate vote.

"We must ensure that we have systems in place in our government and in the industry so that this cannot happen again," said Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

"Beyond that, we should lead the world in development of these systems and technology and not settle for standards that are less rigorous than those of other nations."

The presidential commission set up to probe the Gulf spill has called for overhauling industry practices and establishing a tough new safety watchdog to avoid a repeat of the disaster, which killed 11 workers aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform.

"This is a complex and challenging matter. This committee unanimously reported legislation in the 111th Congress (last session) that would take many of the necessary steps," Bingaman said.

"Since then, the Department of the Interior has taken a number of important actions to address these issues. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that legislative change is necessary to fully ensure safe operations going forward, and intend to introduce legislation again in this Congress."

The April explosion on the rig off the coast of Louisiana spewed a record 4.9 million barrels of toxic crude into the Gulf before the gushing Macondo well was capped three months later.

The impact is still being felt in the region, where oil washed up on beaches, tainted fragile marshlands, caused the authorities to close down vast areas of water to commercial fishing and shrimping, and crippled tourism.

Obama's commission -- whose chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham testified before the Senate committee Wednesday -- blamed "systemic" failures in oil industry safety practices and weakness in regulation for the disaster

Both must be reformed or an accident like that aboard the Deepwater Horizon might recur, they added.

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