Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shell to be grilled over Nigerian oil tensions

Royal Dutch Shell will be questioned by politicians over its operations in Nigeria – two months after tensions over oil exploration in the region flared up again.

Dutch lawmakers have arranged a hearing, described as a "fact-finding session", after several MPs travelled to the troubled Niger Delta region.

A ceasefire between militants opposed to foreign oil exploration and the government broke down in November.

Pipeline bombings caused output to fall 40pc in Africa's top oil producer until a ceasefire in July 2009. However, this collapsed when 13 hostages were taken from Afren and ExxonMobil's oil installations this autumn.

Nigeria's army, navy and air force launched a large offensive six weeks ago, storming rebel camps and jailing insurgents.

Shell has been criticised by environmental groups for the high level of oil spills in Nigeria, which could be as much as 9m barrels since oil exploration began in the 1950s.

The company claims that these are mostly the result of sabotage by militants, but Amnesty International has claimed that 2,000 sites have still not been cleaned up.

It also emerged in US diplomatic cables released on the Wikileaks website that Shell's Nigeria head Ann Pickard claimed to have infiltrated the country's government.

She was quoted as saying in the leaked documents that "the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries." Shell said this statement was "absolutely untrue, false and misleading."

Shell has been trying to sell up to $4bn (£2.6bn) of onshore oil assets in the African country for more than a year.

Yesterday, the company declined to comment on the political hearings about its activities in Nigeria.

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