* UNEP report is first independent study of its kind
* Shell takes responsibility for two spills
* Oil major to pay “huge” compensation - lawyers
By Joe Brock
ABUJA, Aug 4 (Reuters) - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will hand Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan a report on oil pollution on Thursday, unveiling the full extent of almost 50 years of crude spills in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta.
UNEP and rights groups say the report is the first independent and scientific study of its kind in the Niger Delta and it is expected to lay out what action is needed by oil companies and the government to deal with the problem.
“The impact of some of these sights is shocking and have had a devastating impact and I have seen huge spills recently that are not cleaned up,” said Audrey Gaughran, director of the Global Thematic Issues Programme at Amnesty International.
“We expect there will be an aim to get the government to really deal with the problems of oil spills and to stop oil companies just going into public relations mode.”
The Niger Delta spreads across three states in Africa’s most populous nation, comprising thousands of kilometres of labyrinthine creeks, swamps and waterways which hold vast crude oil reserves.
Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has been operating in the Niger Delta longer than any other foreign oil major and has been criticised by local communities and rights group for decades for not cleaning up oil spills.
Shell, which began operating in Ogoniland in the 1950s but was forced out in 1993, argues that the majority of oil spills are caused by sabotage and oil theft by gangs and criminals. It says it cleans up spills whatever the cause.
Given its long history in Ogoniland the Anglo-Dutch firm’s spills are likely to feature widely in UNEP’s report.
Shell said on Wednesday it accepted responsibility for two Ogoniland oil spills in 2008 and 2009, and promised to pay compensation to the Bodo community who say they destroyed communities dependent on fishing.
Although Shell stopped producing oil in Ogoniland 18 years ago, its pipelines, pumps and flowstations remain there and can still suffer crude oil spills and sabotage attacks.
No amount of compensation has been confirmed but Leigh & Day, the lawyers representing the Bodo community, said the spills were “huge” and payouts should match that size. Experts have said it is likely to be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Leigh & Day have said this is the first time Nigerian communities will seek compensation from Shell under British, rather than Nigerian law.
Protest groups have increasingly tried to seek compensation against western oil companies in the firms’ home jurisdictions, where they get wider media coverage and usually larger payouts. (Writing by Joe Brock; editing by Elizabeth Piper)