SHELL PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT COMPANY IN THE NIGER DELTA | Ph.D WORK


A STUDY OF MODERNIZING NIGERIA’S OIL EXPLOITATION FOR PROFIT, THE ENVIRONMENT AND LOCAL POPULATIONS
Introduction

In over 30 years of oil mining, the Ogoni nationality have provided the Nigerian nation with a total revenue estimated at over forty billion Naira, thirty billion dollars. That in return for the above contribution, the Ogoni people have received NOTHING. (Saro-Wiwa 1995, 68)


Dissimilar to the recent Deep Horizon or 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spills, in which oil expeditiously spewed into earth’s waters, Nigeria’s oil experience is listless, painful, and seemingly endless. The link between oil wealth and the destruction of native enterprise is not unique to Nigeria, but common among oil bearing nations (Riddell 2003, 26). Quoted above, deceased poet and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa reduces decades of utter neglect by the Nigerian government and transnational corporations to one truth—the Nigerian people have not prospered from the oil on their lands. Amidst international opposition, the government confirmed its disinterest in entering into discussions with Saro-Wiwa by hanging him and eight of his colleagues for speaking against the devastation imposed by oil conglomerates. Equally guilty, locally-operating oil firms failed to intervene while continuing to earn billions of dollars (US) in revenues from Nigeria’s crude reserves.
Having long dismissed agricultural exports, Nigeria’s economy and leaders unilaterally depend on Nigeria’s oil reserves and the transnational corporations that exploit them. As Africa’s greatest oil-producing nation, Nigeria’s wealth continues to escape a populous which as a majority lives below the poverty line. Extending the resourcefully-rich and economically-poor dichotomy is the Niger Delta, which sources 95 percent of the country’s oil but has slightly higher poverty rates than Nigeria as a whole (Aaron 2005, 127). The Nigerian government, transnational oil companies, and the oil mining central to their operations are wholly to blame. Environmental catastrophe from oil mining shapes local life, with subsistence farmers and fisherman consigned to intoxicated soils and watersheds, residents accustomed to the constant flash of oil flares, and females traveling greater distances to find potable water. Through the freedom that the government allows foreign investors to desecrate the environment in return for their economic inputs, the government directly profits from such local turmoil (Kiel 1992). Encouraged by the government’s land entitlements and non-regulatory environmental schemes, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC/Shell) leads the rush for Nigeria’s oil.
The SPDC is a powerful, wealthy corporation with no concerns but those of its shareholders. The SPDC’s operations in the Delta would be unacceptable by the people or government in any developed nation. Essentially voiceless, Delta residents continue to protest peacefully, and to allow violence and theft to penetrate their lands by other Nigerians who target the oil firms’ staff and infrastructure. The tapping of pipelines, kidnapping of rig workers, and the threat of such incidences has prevented oil infrastructure within the Delta from operating at peak capacity. Such activism has become the most effective method to combat SPDC’s irresponsibility in the Delta. Shell, “responsible for about half of Nigeria’s daily output of 2.6 million barrels of oil”, has at times experienced the halving of production levels as a result of such action (Aspen Publishers 2007). Shifting from a negligent, deleterious, operating approach driven by short-term profits to one of long-term principles could produce economic gains for the firm. SPDC is limited by both its shareholders and the Nigerian government from reforming its operating procedures, but well positioned to benefit from pursuing a greater degree of corporate responsibility.

Background

History
In 1908, the exploration of Nigeria’s marshlands by a German company seeking bitumen deposits illustrated the country’s potential for natural resource excavation (Walker 2000, 72-73). Shell first explored for Nigerian oil in 1937 while the region was still under British colonial rule, and discovered its first commercial oil field in 1956 (Boele, Fabig, and Wheeler 2001, 75). Between 1973 and 1983 the surge of Nigeria’s oil industry drastically shifted the country’s economy away from agricultural dependence to that of oil reliance (Walker 2000, 71). Per 2009 statistics, peak production exceeded two million barrels per day with Nigeria positioned as the world’s fourteenth greatest and Africa’s greatest oil producer (EIA under “Top World Oil Producers, 2009”).

Politics
Per the Land Use Act of 1978 and successive constitutional clauses, the Nigerian government retains exclusive rights to the country’s oil reserves, while proportions of the accrued revenue are allocated to the communities where the oil is mined. While the Nigerian constitution originally provided for a 50% allocation to such regions actual allocations have been much lower (Boele, Fabig, and Wheeler 2001, 76). Exemplifying the extent of the government’s eminent domain is a 1999 constitutional clause, which states that “the entire property in and control of all mineral oils and natural gas in, under, or upon the territorial water and the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria shall vest in the government of the federation”. When Nigeria joined the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971 it was required to nationalize a majority stake in all of its oil endeavors, which was facilitated by the government’s ability to seize “any land needed for oil exploitation” (Boele, Fabig, and Wheeler  2001, 76). Therefore, the exploitation of Nigeria’s oil falls well outside the domain of Nigeria’s general population, and entirely within the jurisdiction of the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian government allows transnational corporations (TNCs) to acquire land at little or no cost under the premise revenues produced from oil mining on those lands will be shared between the TNCs and the government. Considering the dearth of economic development in Nigeria, this profit sharing remains undetectable among the general population. Almost 100 percent of revenues are believed to benefit the country’s elite government workers, suggesting that Nigerian lands are sold by the government with virtually no interest for the general population. This government corruption enables its leaders to become rich while simultaneously permitting TNCs to exploit Nigeria’s land and people without accounting to the government for their acts.
Compared to the rest of Nigeria, the Delta has more highlighted poverty, with economic indicators such as good roads, electricity, potable water, housing, medical care, and educational facilities all lacking (Aaron 2005, 127). Operating through its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC, Shell controls roughly half the land in the Delta, and as the dominant foreign producer has been under intense international pressure to act more responsibly for the Delta’s environment and population (129). Illustrating Shell’s irresponsibility in Nigeria is its involvement in hundreds of pending court cases for operations in-country, many of which concern oil spills (Frynas 2000, 161). In order to minimize its liabilities, Shell prolongs the legal proceedings in which it is involved in order to wear on plaintiffs’ resources, thereby inducing economic hardship on plaintiffs who must then cease their pursuit in the courts.

Environmental Impacts
In a 2007 article titled Shell Still Hell, the New Internationalist quoted Niger Delta resident Ifieniya Festavera stating “an oil spill flows through my river so I can't get fresh water. Gas flares give us acid rain—when we build houses the roof leaks within three to four months”. References to the Delta as one of earth’s most polluted places are attributable to the oil industry. Thousands of oil spills have destroyed wildlife, damaged soil fertility, and degraded watersheds. Higher acidic levels of the soil and hydrocarbon content of the water have had adverse chemical effects on biodiversity. Oil-polluted mangroves have experienced a decline in fish, crustaceans, and the death of a large number of birds and mammals (Ipingbemi 2009, 10). Locals describe the impacts from oil spills to include air unsuitable for breathing, brackish water color, withering plant shrubs, and “crude oil estimated at half a meter thick (2009, 15). Adverse health impacts on humans include increased water-borne illness, transmission of pollutants via food crops, “aggravation of asthma, increased hospital admission for respiratory conditions, chronic lung diseases, bronchitis, and accelerated aging of the lungs” (Okoji 2002, 203).
Socioeconomic Impacts
Local populations depend almost entirely upon the environment for their livelihood, thus absorbing the environmental consequences of oil mining at the socioeconomic level. Lands previously used to farm are no longer conducive to crops and watersheds used to fish can no longer support aquatic life. Children have forcibly quit school as a result of their parents’ inability to pay tuition costs, and workers must seek alternative sources of income in order to support their families (Ipingbemi 2009, 13). People and farms have been displaced by “the intricate traversing and overlay of oil pipelines and rigs within the region” (Onwuka 2005, 658), while personal commutes have been rerouted. Resource competition existed between ethnicities independently of oil companies, but ethnic disputes have augmented in determining who receives compensation for oil spills based upon ownership of the spoiled resource (Okoji 2002, 200).
Substandard Practices
Standard operating procedures with adverse impacts on the environment are acceptable worldwide, but Shell employs substandard tactics which augment its environmental footprint. Most oil mining requires geological and geophysical surveys involving the “cutting of traverses, seismic operations, identification of rock formations…the vegetation is cut down, the terrain is dotted with seismic holes while seismic explosions scare away wildlife and cause buildings to crack or collapse” (Okoji 2000, 717). Drill rigs require the assembly and erection of heavy equipment, modification of the underlying ground support, the building of new roads, the cutting of new water channels, or expansion to existing infrastructure (717). Leaks occur accidentally during oil transport and waste is produced at various steps in the excavation process. All the above describe oil-industry norms in no way unique to operations in the Delta, though several procedures specifically employed in the Delta would not be accepted elsewhere (Aspen Publishers 2006).
Specifically in the Delta, pipelines used to transport oil are greatly susceptible to corrosion and technically inferior to those used in developed countries. Gas flaring techniques, reserved for emergency situations in developed countries, are systematic in SPDC’s daily operations. Oil spills, whether from local sabotage, malfunction, or SPDC malfeasance, are responded to slowly and remediated partially. “According to Shell data, the company’s equipment and errors were responsible for fifty-three spills in 2008, a total that would lead to immediate action anywhere in the developed world” (Chavkin 2010, 24). The ubiquity of Shell’s usage of substandard practices in Nigeria suggests that the firm implements such practices as standard operating procedure and an accepted cost of doing business.
Gas flaring, the process by which the gaseous byproducts of oil mining are burned on-site, is permitted only in emergency situations in developed countries, but routine to Shell’s Delta operations. “The proper use of flares is a good engineering practice because flares can prevent damages, fires and explosions, and injuries to employees” (EPA, 1). But the routine usage of flaring causes “unacceptably high releases of sulfur dioxide and other noxious pollutants” (1). Developed countries re-inject these gases back into the ground or contain or transport them for commercial or industrial use, while oil flaring is permitted and used only for the release and burning of over-pressured gases which might otherwise cause an explosion. Shell attributes the decades-long absence of re-injection and containment infrastructure in the Delta to the Nigerian government’s failure to meet its financial obligations. So Shell uses gas flares 24 hours per day, causing environmental effects that include thermal conduction, particulate emissions, and high radiant energy, while “changing night into daylight, preventing sound sleep and scaring away wildlife” (Okoji 2000, 721-722).
Oil spills, while not intentional, could also be considered part of Shell’s operating procedures, in that more spills have occurred in the Delta than any other place on the planet. From 1989-2000, there were 2252 incidents of oil spills, with approximately 536,000 total barrels of oil spilled, of which only 4.3 percent was recovered (Ipingbemi 2009, 9). The various causes of spills include the separating of or damage to pipelines, leakage, oil tank overflow, and sabotage by Nigerian groups. Shell, often been blamed for using outdated pipelines which are more susceptible to corrosion than modern pipelines, counter-blames local populations for intentionally causing spills to receive compensation. Furthermore, the percentages of oil spills which Shell asserts were caused by sabotage are strikingly inconsistently across media sources and citations (Human Rights Watch 1999).
Operational Conflict
Oil spills have become central to speculation and blame regarding the environmental degradation in the Delta. Shell’s passing of guilt onto the locals for “sabotaging” pipelines in order to receive compensation as mandated under Nigerian law is standard practice. However, Shell’s reasoning suggests that locals, by their own free will, have decided that their most profitable response to their current plight involves the sabotaging of their own lands. Premising such a theory concurrently with the fact that the majority of locals depend upon the land for their survival infers that locals might have finally forfeited the well-being of the land. Perhaps this is attributed to the irreparable damage to the land caused by oil excavation so farmers and fisherman can no longer use it. However, compensation provided by industry to locals is neither guaranteed nor particularly prosperous, therefore placing suspicion on the notion that the Nigerian population would disvalue its greatest resource—the environment.
The allegation that locals would resort to consciously destroying their own environment, used as habitat and workplace, for incendiary gain, is debatable. During a spill, 88.4% of locals run at a loss during spills, while 8.9% make less profit than normal (Ipingbemi 2009, 17). Furthermore, the compensation provided by industry is often menial, only equivalent to the gains derived from one harvest cycle of the damaged resource. Mango trees have been observed to provide fruit for as long as 300 years, rendering the industry’s basis for compensation off one harvest cycle grossly inadequate and inequitable. Locals who depend on mangoes and similar crops for their livelihood would briskly learn that industry compensation is insufficient in meriting its invitation through intentional sabotage. Considering that the risks of a spill exceed the loss of livelihood, it is not in the best interest of the populations most dependent on the land to ruin it. Considering the continuance of oil spills throughout Shell’s presence in the Delta, the hundreds of thousands of barrels of lost oil, and Shell’s ability to maintain profits, it seems more logical to blame Shell.
The industry status quo has not been to prevent oil spills from happening, but rather to perceive them as a standard risk and accepted consequence of doing business in the Delta. While there should be economic incentives in place for industry to prevent spills, the opposite is more truthful. Instead of voluntarily investing in infrastructure which might safeguard against the frequency of spills, Shell has deferred to compensating locals and forfeiting any oil spilled, which represents pennies in comparison to oil retained. Furthermore, response time to spills is often slow, even during the presence or threat of fire (Ipingbemi 2009, 14). Delays in response time have been attributed to locals attempting to increase the resulting incendiary gain from greater damage wrought by the spill (Aaron 2005, 132). Furthermore, “an oil company has an economic self-interest in claiming sabotage in court as it can escape compensation payments to communities” (Frynas 2000, 161). Shell’s entire approach to the Delta, including its slow responsiveness to oil spills and its claims against locals in both the media and the courts, suggest that Shell thrives from an operational standard of scapegoating and irresponsibility.
If spills have been unsuccessful in thwarting industry’s unadulterated exploitation of the Delta, local rebel groups have at times severely limited production outputs. The least abrasive tactics of these groups—tapping into pipelines and siphoning oil—if not vindicates local populations at least identifies the root of some of the oil spills. Such local groups may reside outside the vicinity of areas impacted by the pipes they tap into, or such groups might flee in commerce with the oil. More striking is the recurrence of hostage-taking by these armed militia groups, which typically return the hostages for a ransom. When serious, threats by rebel groups have at times led to reduction in Nigeria’s oil exports by as much as 20% (Aspen Publishers 2006). Rebel groups are not representative of those local groups most affected by the mining, and considering that several leaders have been paid off, the groups’ mission is likely driven by profit rather than social justice. This should not discount Ken Saro-Wiwa and advocacy groups which defend the rights of Nigeria’s people and have a genuine interest in protecting the Nigerian people against big business.

Ethical Responsibility

Dutch Responsibility
The Netherlands’ should assume responsibility as Shell’s parent nation in applying its own legal framework to Shell’s operations in the Delta. The Netherland’s  comprehensive Environmental Protection Act of 1994 protects the “environment while allowing for development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depend” (Netherlands 1994, 39). Considering that Shell is a Dutch corporation, the concept of environmental protection as outlined above is familiar to it, and the Dutch government instills such laws on corporations within its own borders. Extensive laws protecting Dutch soil, water, air marine life, ecosystems, and agriculture, pervade Dutch society, while environmental protection is void in Nigeria. Through the application of its laws on Shell and Shell’s operations within the Delta, including necessary sanctions, the Dutch government can force Shell to operate more responsibly.

The Corporation
Noam Chomsky said that corporations were “given the rights of immortal persons… special kinds of persons, persons who had no moral conscience…designed by law, to be concerned only for their stockholders. And not, say, what are sometimes called their stakeholders, like the community or the work force or whatever” (The Corporation, 2003). Considering Chomsky’s description of a corporation, it is problematic to argue that Shell, as a corporation, must assume an ethical responsibility for either environment protection or human rights. Shell’s board of directors does not act individually, but as a homogenous governing body which makes decisions according to the company’s best financial interest. If Shell’s corporate executive officer personally developed a want to change the company, he or she would be limited to act freely on such thoughts by challenge from board members, voting shareholders, and the risk of losing employment. Residents from oil-afflicted countries, Nigeria included, who have the required documents for entry, have been barred from shareholder conferences, as have several human rights organizations. Such parties do not present Shell with the financial incentive or interest to warrant their engagement in discussions, but instead suggest that Shell either cease operations or make significant changes that would affect the company’s bottom line. Therefore, Shell’s destructive capacity for neglecting human rights exceeds the authority of any individual agent internal to the company.
Unsustainability
Shell’s continued irresponsibility progressively exacerbates the destruction caused to the Delta’s people and environment, and if uninterrupted has irreversible consequences for the region. “The basic idea is simple. People and development are linked to the environment because societies extract, process and consume natural resources for their survival and for the sake of development” (Onwuka 2005, 657). The shortsightedness with which Shell operates ignores the long-term consequences for the Delta’s future once oil reserves are exhausted. Local populations once depended on the Delta’s fertile lands and waters to farm and fish, but this is longer possible because of Shell’s irresponsibility. The dichotomy between Shell’s exploitation of and locals’ dependence on the same Delta lands produces an uneven balance which inherently threatens the well being of locals. In the Delta, Nigerians already cannot farm, fish, or live without threats to their health and economic stability, and such threats augment so long as Shell continues to pollute.
In order to foster greater sustainability within the Delta, Shell, in collaboration with the Dutch government, should assume a degree of responsibility for economic development in the region. Presently, Shell’s exportation of oil profits deprives locals of their natural resources and inhibits them from pursuing economic development. Rather than benefitting from a resource-rich homeland, locals are penalized by and divided from the potential benefits of their oil reserves (Onwuka 2005, 657). However, if Shell allocates a percentage of its oil profits locally, the Delta could benefit from the continued exploitation of such oil. Allocations for environmental remediation could help return the Delta to a more livable state which could sustain the locals, and economic development could address the socioeconomic issues affecting populations via the environmental degradation.
Sustainability
In initiating development of the Delta, Shell should limit its approach to include projects that garner local support, require local cost sharing, and involve local leadership. “Prior to 1995, Shell’s [corporate social responsibility] strategy in Nigeria focused on risk and reputation management”, and emphasized corporate philanthropy, or the giving of things to the community such as water and health infrastructure, training, education, agriculture, and micro-credit (Ite 2004, 5). Once Shell’s support for an approach such as this dissipates, local populations which lack the capacity to maintain infrastructural support previously provided by Shell are at a loss. To prevent this downfall, Shell should allow the Delta communities leeway in determining which projects are most important to them, and refrain from pushing locals towards a project that does not require their participation. By fostering development work that is community driven, Shell will empower local communities while reducing their dependence on the company (Ite 2004, 6).

Corporate Ills and Responsibilities

Limitations of the Nigerian Government
Financially vested in the continuation of foreign oil mining, the government is equally culpable in Shell’s negligence of the Nigerian people and their environment. “When a natural resource provides the bulk of a state’s revenue, as in many oil-producing states, there is no incentive for the state to encourage the development of representative government. Oil removes the need to tax the population and win its consent for taxation” (Riddell 2003, 27). At times, the government actually opposes corporate responsibility. Responding to a supposed victory by Niger Delta locals who convinced Shell to extract its operations from one Delta region, the government told Shell to resume operations or risk losing its greater land concessions (Aspen Publishers 2006). Failing to meet its budgetary obligations concerning a joint-venture with Shell that would allow for an end to gas flares, the government allows Shell to excuse its own irresponsibility with that of the government (Chavkin 2010, 23-24). “The government often issues public orders and reprimands to the oil majors but fails to hold them accountable even for outright disregard of its regulations” stated Michael Watts, a UC Berkeley professor and expert on the Niger Delta (22). Such limitations cloud the distinction between the interests of Shell and the government, both of which seem unilaterally concerned with protecting their stakes in oil.
Limitations of a Corporation
Current inadequacies in governance allow for instability within the Delta, but if governance is entirely entrusted to Shell, the risk of aggravating that instability mounts. Failing to support its population, the State has led to an unhealthy overreliance on the oil companies, and in the long-term Shell could effectively be leading the pace of economic development in the region with virtually no contribution from the Nigerian government (Ite 2004, 1-7). Initially, federal agencies were created to allocate the oil revenues derived from oil-bearing regions back to those regions, but the members of these agencies commonly pilfer the funds (Boele, Fabig, and Wheeler 2001, 75-76). Without the government-appointed delegations fulfilling their responsibilities, Shell and other corporations are indirectly burdened with caring for local populations. However, corporations were created as profit-bearing enterprises with no public interest beyond the individuals who own shares in their market value. A corporation will only create infrastructure—transportation, education, health care, employment—if such development adds value to or increases profits for itself. Dysfunction on the State’s part not only permits Shell to act irresponsibly, but absolves the firm of assuming a more ethical approach to its operations.
Fiscal Responsibility
Legal Challenges
Acting more responsibly could benefit Shell by mitigating the large quantity of lawsuits which impede its operations. Considering Shell’s systematic nature of arbitration, it remains unclear whether this seemingly standard operating procedure is an accepted obstacle or an actual nuisance. Regardless, the hundreds of cases that Shell has been simultaneously involved in verify that the company devotes significant attention to them. Through a narrow fiscal scope, legal proceedings such as the 2009 settlement with Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr. for $15.5 million on behalf of his murdered father would seem quite costly (Lerner 2009, 1). But during the 13 years which Shell arbitrated for this settlement, it maintained operations while realizing billions of dollars in oil profits. This epitomizes Shell’s strategy in using avoidance and delay in dealing with Nigerian courts, absent any respect for the victims of its actions (Chavkin 2010, 23). Regardless, if Shell revised its field operations so that they were less destructive, with greater responsibility for local populations and the environment, a significant decline in legal challenges would follow.
Public Relations
Reparation of its environmental, socioeconomic, and legal tribulations could help polish Shell’s public image, an asset invaluable to any firm. To date, most attempts to polish Shell’s image have been vacuous propaganda, intended to ease international pressures while evading problems real to the Nigerian people. Similarly, Shell’s public relations investment has done little to change perception among locals in the Delta, suggesting the extreme degree of apathy expressed by Shell towards Nigerians (Boele, Fabig, and Wheeler 2001, 78). However, by reconciling its public image per local perception through greater responsibility, Shell could gather support among its staunchest critics. Locals cannot be fooled through empty media gimmicks, but Shell could employ tangible changes in the region that might deter populations from legal or vigilante action targeted at the company. “The reputation of any corporation is an important tangible asset in business” (Frynas 2000, 158). Reevaluation of its local image could allow Shell to mend the longstanding, pervasive distrust that is felt towards it among local populations. While local acceptance is not imperative to the company’s success, it could do nothing but allow the firm greater facility through which to operate.
Vandalism
The monikers applied to those who attack Shell’s infrastructure —vandals, saboteurs, rebels, locals, foreigners— are irrelevant, though the actions of these individuals are blatantly visible. “Shell said in [mid] 2008 that it was losing 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil production to recent attacks” (Hyder 2008, 2). A more ecologically friendly business model might help counter such attacks by instilling greater stability in the region. If Shell fixes some of its most polluting operations, locals are less likely to garner contempt towards the company. Saboteurs living outside the Delta often travel into the region and tap into and siphon from pipelines, leaving them unplugged to spill into local lands. However, locals might restrict such saboteurs’ access to their lands if Shell illustrates to them that it provides a more likeable environmental alternative. Furthermore, a reduction in vandalism would lead to lessened police presence, and Shell would not have to operate within business situations that falter between degrees of normalcy and uncertainty caused by such unrest (Okoji 2002).
Infrastructure
Shell’s attempts to stop vandalism will be more successful if performed in conjunction with a correction of the company’s own infrastructural inadequacies. Locals’ accusations that Shell uses technologically outdated pipelines have been confirmed, suggesting that Shell is guilty for much of the spills and the associated lost revenue. Furthermore, many “residents say that the use of fire as a cleanup method is commonplace” (Chavkin 2010, 23). Most significantly, gas flaring is economically wasteful, in that it burns the valuable gas byproducts of oil excavation (The Oil and Gas Forum, under “Gas Flaring”). In assessing the long-term feasibility of associated gas recovery, researcher Michiko Ishishone found that the necessary infrastructure would likely produce gains for both local populations and investors within 15 years (2004). Although it requires a large initial investment, more immediate economic benefits of improved health and environment could be realized with the local populations, again bolstering Shell’s local image. If the expenses that Shell incurs from the local compensation and lost product associated with accidental spills are greater than the costs of building gas-recovery infrastructure, the latter option is only sensible.

Conclusion

When a child is stubborn and you scold it, it tries to cover its ears-that's what Shell is doing. It may say that now it is socially responsible, but it has not cleaned up its act. If wishes were like magic, individuals in the Niger Delta would just click their fingers and all these oil companies would disappear. (Shell still hell 2007)
Any attempt in motivating Shell Petroleum towards greater corporate social responsibility does not negate the heinous, despicable actions that are central to their operations. Shell’s status as a corporation does not exonerate it from decades of transparent negligence for the Nigerian people or their environment. Shell pollution spews into every crevasse of the Delta’s water, soil, and air, harming forests, farms, fish, animals, humans, and the commerce, sleep, travel, and education on which they depend for survival. No level of pecuniary, judicial, or environmental remediation can suffice in compensating the Delta residents for the havoc forced upon them by SPDC. Displaced persons, dead animals, noxious air and water, dehabilitated incomes, and poisoned habitats—characteristics of the Delta inflicted by Shell illuminate the firm’s unwavering pursuit of profits despite the consequences to humanity. Shell deserves no forgiveness.
Similarly, there are numerous other political, social, and economic agents which deserve blame for passively and impassively permitting Shell’s irresponsibility. Foremost, the Nigerian government has denounced its own peoples for oil profits, deferring to Shell in almost all circumstances despite international opposition to the catastrophes in the Delta. Equally culpable, the Dutch government instills law and order within its own borders, but exonerates Shell in Nigeria. Additionally, the United States government, leading the world in consumption of Shell’s Delta oil, and other heavily-consuming countries, do nothing in spite of the millions of barrels oils they import monthly. This affluence among the world’s richest populations exhibits a need to manage economic growth while considering the well being of present and future generations (Onwuka 2005, 656). On the surface, oil seems to be oil, irrespective of the associated consequences of its mining, whether they are environmental degradation, social destruction, or government oppression.
In spite of its current position and heavily negative image in Nigeria, Shell has the opportunity in correcting its actions to become the champion of its own irresponsibility. Continued degradation of the Nigerian environment and disregard for local populations on Shell’s behalf will only incite greater “awareness, discontent, [and] feelings of social neglect” among locals (Okoji 2002, 197). Rather, Shell can reduce this ill will by correcting itself through environmental stewardship and limited support for economic development in the region. As the leader among transnational corporations operating in the Delta, Shell can make changes more widespread and impacting than any of its competitors. Subsequently, Shell’s reparations could motivate smaller firms in the region to behave similarly, which could play well for Shell’s image locally. However, stockholder interests, a corrupt Nigerian government, and a Dutch government which evades the issues severely limit Shell’s operations by permitting the firm’s heightened degree of irresponsibility. International pressures from human rights groups can only push Shell so far, which means that Shell must independently decide to change, or be convinced or forced to do so by one of the other parties interested in its success.
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