Shell has hit back at the ‘Shell Hell Day’ organised by Cambridge University Amnesty International last Thursday. Students from across Cambridge donned white jump-suits for the day to campaign against the energy company’s operations in the Niger Delta.

Alice Ajeh, International Relations Manager of Shell who has lived most of her life in the Niger Delta, spoke exclusively to Varsity to address the concerns of the students who called for Shell to “clean up their act”.

Ajeh denied that Shell was the main culprit for oil pollution, explaining, “The sad fact is that much of oil pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by sabotage.  Most of that is caused by heavily-armed gangs who illegally tap into the pipelines to steal large quantities of crude oil.

“They spill oil, cause widespread environmental damage, impact the lives of affected communities and leave us to clean up the mess.

“Some armed militant groups blow up pipelines and other facilities to stop oil production and draw attention to conditions in the Niger Delta,” she added.

“Of course we are concerned about the environmental impact of oil spills and the impact on communities.  The Shell Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is committed to stopping all leaks as fast as possible and cleaning up all spill sites.” 

Ajeh also sought to play down the reality of the social and environmental impacts of gas flaring.  She told Varsity, “To put it into perspective, there are fewer than 110 flares in an area the size of Portugal.”

However, she emphasised that Shell was committed to ending the flaring of gas in its operations in Nigeria, pointing out that the SPDC has invested $3 billion dollars in gas-gathering projects since 2000, with Shell’s total flaring falling by 60% in that time.

Amnesty’s claims that Shell has failed to address social impacts adequately were also attacked.  “I don’t accept this,” said Ajeh.  “SPDC takes the social impacts of its operations into account and looks for new ways for communities to benefit, in support of the government which carries the main responsibility for the development of its people.”

In 2008, $158 million was given to the Niger Delta Development Commission and $84 million was injected directly into community development projects.   Ajeh notes that “this is the largest single investment in communities that Shell companies make anywhere in the world.”

This money is spent on education, health and infrastructure.  An AIDS programme initiated by Shell in partnership with the NGO Family Health International recently won an international award in New York. 

However, Ajeh concedes that “there are many difficult challenges in trying to improve people’s lives in the Niger Delta and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise.  In order to address these many challenges, all relevant parties will need to work together, and SPDC is supporting the government and other parts of civil society to make a difference.”