Shell Holland's president, Peter de Wit, denied all the charges and insisted that the company applied "global standards" to its operations around the world. He argued that Shell had provided thousands of well-paid jobs, brought know-how, education and technology and had launched numerous community projects in the west African nation.
"We consider that Shell is doing a good job often under difficult circumstances," he said.
He was backed by Ian Craig, Shell's head of exploration for sub-Saharan African, who argued that the company could not be held solely responsible for damage to the environment caused by oil extraction in the oil-rich region. "We do bear some responsibility, but we cannot bear it entirely," Craig told the Dutch parliamentDutch MPs.
But Shell's operations in Nigeria will come under fire again in the coming weeks. The UN Environment Programme, using money from Shell, has spent four years investigating and assessing thousands of oil spills in Ogoniland, the small oil-rich region of the Niger Delta where the company was active until forced out over pollution by Ogoni leaders including Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged by the Nigerian military regime in 1995.
The UN report will not say who caused the spills but will confirm that large areas of land remain polluted, drinking water wells are still highly toxic and many of the fishing creeks are unproductive.
Shell Nigeria argues that 90% of the pollution is caused by sabotage by local people but this will further inflame Nigerian and foreign environmentalists who accuse the company of being in league with the Nigerian government, falsifying records of spills and acting as an unaccountable parallel state.
Last year in New York the families of the nine Ogoni activists who were hanged by the Nigerian military government in 1995 alleged that Shell had conspired with the government to capture and hang the men, and had worked with the army to bring about killings and torture of Ogoni protesters. The company denied the charges but settled out of court and agreed to pay £15m as a humanitarian gesture.
Madam, - Terry Nolan of Shell's call for "real dialogue" on the Erris pipeline/refinery stand-off does not convince. He says, for example, that "the project has been through a rigorous planning and consents process". This is disingenuous: did he not notice Lorna Siggins's report in your edition of October 19th which referred to omissions from the original environmental impact statement regarding cold venting (the release of contaminated gas into the atmosphere), and explained how the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources refused to allow North Mayo residents to address it on this issue?
“We’re justified in resorting to civil disobedience when our cause is valid, we’re motivated by that cause to disobey, we’ve made reasonable efforts to use legal channels first, and we’re sensitive to the likely impact on other people. Civil disobedience is not just justified, but praiseworthy, when it helps to remedy grave injustices in our society.”
Kimberley Brownlee, associate professor in legal and moral philosophy at the Warwick University Law School